Sloppy Citation Makes Me Smile

Citations are always exciting. They tell you that someone out there believed your material was credible enough to hang an important statement or idea from. Citations mean you’re serious business, that people care what you think.

Naturally, I don’t get many citations. All 10 of my regular readers tell me I’m brilliant, but the fact remains that I’m simply too snarky and young to be cited by “serious” writers in the world of mainstream media (or at least that’s what I tell myself). Apparently, however, I’ve finally made the big league by earning a citation in the Los Angeles Times.

I logged in the other day to find a curious pingback on one of my posts that led me to an opinion column in that auspicious paper. The article essentially celebrates negative research on voucher results in Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana. It’s the same sort of nanny-nanny-boo-boo article about DeVos’s support for private school choice that we’ve seen in other media outlets recently.

Intrigued, I skimmed the paper for an embedded link that looked like it might actually be associated with my blog post. Maybe, I thought, he’s actually using my post to paint a fair and balanced picture. Nope. I found nothing. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered that the author had somewhat inexplicably used a post I wrote about two of these negative studies to cite one of the studies itself. Check it out:

The third data point comes from Indiana, where a voucher program was sedulously promoted by former Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president. There, two researchers from Notre Dame have found that “voucher students who transfer to private schools experience significant losses in mathematics achievement” and no improvement in English compared to their records at their former public schools. A student who entered the Indiana program at the 50th percentile in math fell to the 44% percentile a year later, according to the study, which is still in progress.

The second link about two researchers from Notre Dame is the one that leads back to my previous post. I can’t fathom why the author decided to link to that post to cite the study in question, particularly because I used the post to lampoon the panel paper in question for being unavailable to the public despite reporting on its findings. Heck, I even snottily include a picture of Miami, where the paper was presented at a conference, in lieu of actual analysis of the mysterious findings. Adding to the mystery, the author obviously has access to the study’s updated findings because my post did not include the specifics about students falling from the 50th percentile to the 44th percentile in a year. He probably got those statistics from this new Brookings Institution report, which, we should note, ends by stating, “More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good or bad investment of public funds.” Why not just cite that, dude?

But the really funny thing is that while my post acknowledged the negative findings of the other studies he cited in Louisiana and Ohio, it cuts against the columnist’s main argument that vouchers are terrible, awful, no-good things that folks should be ashamed to support. The post begins by clearly telling readers that the majority of the highest-quality research still indicates that vouchers improve outcomes for at least some students. It also links to a previous post in which I explained why Louisiana’s voucher program might be performing so poorly (hint: it’s not because of the vouchers themselves). And, to top it all off, it engages in a lengthy discussion of why people should not try to generalize the findings of the Ohio study.

In other words, the post argues against exactly what this particular columnist was attempting to do. Apparently undeterred by this fact, our friendly neighborhood anti-choice writer happily linked Little Eddie’s post for the world to read. In doing so, he accidentally committed the cardinal sin of slanted opinion writing: Exposing your audience to the possibility that their might be a completely reasonable rebuttal to your argument. Whoops!

I would love to take full credit for this interesting (and amusing) citation. And if you’d like to mark it down as validation of my brilliant analytic skills, I won’t stop you. Honestly, though, it seems more likely that this columnist did some sloppy Googling. In this case, that’s great news for people who might actually be interested in hearing the whole story before jumping to the conclusion that DeVos’s middle name is Lucifer.