I was recently notified by a Google Scholar Alert that a work of mine had been newly cited. Naturally, I clicked through the link to see what had been cited and where.
The article that I was cited in is: Dean, Deborah. “Shifting Perspectives about Grammar: Changing what and how we Teach.” English Journal 100.4 (2011): 20-26.
I skimmed along until I found the moment in the article where I had been cited by the author.
And then I was dismayed, dismayed because what the citation attributed to me is not my own unique work, and indeed is work that I never have nor would attempt to take credit for. So, I’ll explain, and offer a correction to the author of the article.
Dean’s passage reads: “In a recent conference presentation, Nate Kreuter noted another element that may be part of the future perspective. When we go online, he explains, ‘Information is not in short supply. Attention is.’ He suggests that one key to effective communication in this new writing space might be style-an idea that should inform future shifts in perspective.”
Those familiar with Richard Lanham‘s work will immediately recognize that the ideas attributed to me by Dean are really Lanham’s ideas, the ones he articulates at length in The Economics of Attention. I don’t recall the exact details of the conference presentation of two years ago, except to say that I am sure of two things: 1) that I certainly would have referenced Lanham in the presentation, and 2) that I attributed Lanham’s ideas to him.
In many ways, Dean’s understandable error, but error nonetheless, illustrates the risks of citing a conference presentation. Usually delivered verbally and without leaving an enduring video or audio recording, scholars are apt to misremember or misconstrue a conference presentation after the fact, particularly since most of us are not trained in the methods of responsible journalism.
Frankly, I’m also a bit surprised that English Journal‘s blind reviewers didn’t, 1) nix the idea of citing a conference presentation for which there is no enduring record, and/or 2) recognize immediately that the ideas incorrectly attributed to me are in fact the quite famous thesis of Richard Lanham’s most recent book, especially given the fact that Lanham is quite important to the field and that I, well, am not.
I have been an evangelist on behalf of Richard Lanham’s work for some time now. I’m happy that his ideas on the economics of attention (incorrectly attributed to me by Dean in this case) are finding purchase with a range of scholars. I do believe, from what I observe in the world, that Lanham’s notion that attention, rather than information, is what’s in short supply in the information economy, is correct. And that the notion is correct has potentially dramatic consequences for rhetoric and rhetorical instruction. And while I have evangelized widely on behalf of Lanham’s idea, I certainly couldn’t take credit for it.