17 April 2005

Putting Table 13 in File 13

One of the major problems for those of us who actually care about academic writing in law is the difficulty one has in accessing and then citing works. For the moment, I'm going to assault the Blue Book; I have plenty of ire for others, such as journals that insist on unwarranted copyright grabs, but I think I've made that apparent previously!

Now, admittedly, one really wants to cite to the "definitive" version of a work, particularly a work so subject to revision as is an academic piece. (You really don't want to see the extent of revisions to my chapters on performance-enhancing substances!) Part of the problem, though, is how we do our citations in the "law biz." The true extent of the evil is most apparent in Table 13 of the Blue Book. Here, we find the excrutiatingly precise abbreviations allowed for various publications… some of which are not consistent with the publication's own preferred name or abbreviation. Sort of at random, we find:

California Law ReviewCal. L. Rev. 
Capital University Law ReviewCap. U. L. Rev. 
Columbia-VLA Journal of Law and the ArtsColum.-VLA J.L. & Arts
George Washington Law ReviewGeo. Wash. L. Rev.
Georgetown Law JournalGeo. L.J.
John Marshall Law ReviewJ. Marshall L. Rev.
Journal of College and University LawJ.C. & U.L.
University of Florida Journal of Law and Public PolicyU. Fla. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y

Note that the Blue Book persists in using state abbreviations that have been explicitly disfavored for forty years. It should be CA L. Rev., and FL J.L. & Pub. Pol'y, without even getting into the other stupid overloading of and choices for abbreviations—consider Geo., which could be "George," as in "George Washington University" (which, in abbreviations, refers to itself as "GW" or "GWU"), or it could be "Georgetown." Then we've got "J.", which ordinarily signals "Journal" but sometimes means "John," as in "John Marshall"… which any competent librarian would file under "Marshall" and not "John" anyway. I can think of few systems that would do better at confusing reasonably straightforward computer programs without explicitly being designed to do so. Then, too, the more common "Review" has to be abbreviated "Rev." because "R." had been reserved for referring to reigning monarchs and railroads… neither of which should matter in abbreviating a journal title.

Then there are relevant journals that are not explicitly "law biz" pieces that get mangled by the cramped rules for citation. Publications of the Modern Language Association, for example, becomes Pub. Mod. Language Ass'n, although it refers to itself (and is referred to by everyone in literary academia) as PMLA. Perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised at this arrogance, given where the Blue Book is "managed."

And just for fun, we could try dealing with electronic citation, and the extraordinarily stupid requirement of citing to page numbers instead of discrete parts or chapters; but that's for another time.