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This is pretty scholarly/geeky. But power Google users might find this interesting and funny.

My colleague Bryan Pfaffenberger wrote:

Dear colleagues:

The following is an instructive, and I think hilarious, example of the need to proofread computer-generated bibliographies.

I like to use the Firefox extension called Zotero to download bibliographic data from online sources, such as Google Scholar; like Endnote and other bibliography managers, Zotero can generate bibliographies from coded citations placed within a Word document's text.

In my rush to finish a session proposal by the deadline, I inserted a Zotero-generated bibliography, but did not proofread it. I subsequently discovered that it contained the following, odd-looking entry:

Kitchens, O., and E. a Feast. 1960. Subject-Matter Index of Patents for Inventions issued by the United States Patent Office from 1790-1873 inclusive. Compiled by MD Legett...

The source of the error was, plainly, Google Scholar, which gives the authors' names as follows:

O Kitchens, Ea Feast

It seems that Zotero didn't know quite what to do about "Ea," and therefore produced "Kitchens, O. and E. a Feast." Arguably, this should have been:

Kitchens, O., and E.A. Feast

Upon reflection, however, it occurred to me that I can recall no Kitchen, nor yet again any Feast, among the scholars in the history of technology. And as Google Scholar was itself quick to confirm, they authored no other works. If I am mistaken in this I offer my most abject apologies, but it seems that neither Kitchen nor Feast actually exist. They are, it seems, artifacts -- creations of some error hidden deep in the intricacies of Google Scholar's scanning algorithm.

Just why Google Scholar attributed imaginary authorship to the Subject-Matter Index might have remained a mystery forever, were it not for the scholarship of my colleague, Carolyn Cooper, who found my citation intriguing. She reports the following discovery:

"Norman Ball wrote the review of the Arno Press reprint of Leggett, in the journal Archivaria at some date not mentioned, in whose pages it immediately followed the review of a cookbook, or possibly two cookbooks... Ontario Kitchens and Everywhere a Feast."

I think it remarkable that computer systems could, all on their own, imagine scholars with such wonderful names -- O. Kitchens and E. A. Feast. That this amounts to creativity is, I think, an arguable proposition. Still, it is disquieting that, no sooner had computers given the breath of life to Kitchens and Feast, the two were assigned the dreariest of all possible authorship tasks, namely, compiling the Subject-Matter Index of Patents of Invention. It speaks of a certain, subtle malevolence that, quite frankly, I find rather disturbing.



As long as one remembers to proofread the inserted bibliographic items, Zotero is a great tool. You can download it from the following Web site:


To modify Google Scholar so that Zotero can download bibliographic data, do the following:

1. In Google Scholar, click Advanced Preferences.

2. In the Bibliography Manager area, select Endnote in the list box.

3. Click Save Preferences.


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A book in progress by

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Siva Vaidhyanathan

This blog, the result of a collaboration between myself and the Institute for the Future of the Book, is dedicated to exploring the process of writing a critical interpretation of the actions and intentions behind the cultural behemoth that is Google, Inc. The book will answer three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google?; How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?; and how has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states? [more]

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» More about me


Like the Mind of God (22 posts)

All the World's Information (26 posts)

What If Big Ads Don't Work (10 posts)

Don't Be Evil (9 posts)

Is Google a Library? (43 posts)

Challenging Big Media (18 posts)

The Dossier (19 posts)

Global Google (3 posts)

Google Earth (3 posts)

A Public Utility? (19 posts)

About this Book (16 posts)

Other books by Siva:


Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)

The Anarchist in the Library (Basic Books, 2004)

Copyrights and copywrongs cover

Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001)


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