Credit Where Credit is Specifically Due
An Andy Rooney-esque musing to close out the week: Why do we tend to acknowledge useful feedback from colleagues in a single “thank you” footnote at the beginning of an article, instead of at specific points throughout? The former seems to be the preferred practice, but the latter seems more appropriate in many cases, and I’m not sure why it’s so rare.
My own impulse is to treat colleagues and outside readers just like any other source, and to drop footnotes indicating their specific contributions. If someone gives me an idea that I would have footnoted had it been a published source, it seems that the person should get credit in precisely the same way—that is, at the spot in the article where the idea appears. And while my impressions are admittedly totally unscientific, it seems to me that such footnotes (i.e., “Many thanks to X for bringing this point to my attention.”) are pretty rare.
Maybe the single “thank you” footnote ensures that all the people who contributed to the article will have their names noted by casual readers, who are unlikely to scan any footnotes beyond the first. Or if the purpose of footnotes isn’t so much to give credit as it is to help interested readers pursue their own research, maybe it’s less troubling when a human source goes uncited, since readers are presumably unlikely to follow up with individual people directly. Or perhaps most feedback from colleagues and outside readers is not specific enough to be attributed to any one part of an article.
All of those strike me as plausible explanations, though I’m not sure any of them accurately explains why authors do things the way they do.