Referring to this answer, there is a 'not enough references' tag: https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/8503/7871

The book Good Calories, Bad Calories has its own bibliography. A quick Google Scholar search shows that it's cited by dieticians, and possibly studied in classes so often that people post study notes.

Why would something like that not be considered a good reference, whereas a lot of the Internet cited ones are allowed?

Since it can be pretty hard to check the bibliography of some books (and it is difficult to tell fact from fiction from the name of the cover alone), what's a good practice for citing books?

  • 1
    My second most highly voted answer may be a case in point here. I cite only one reference (a book), and take quotes from primary and secondary sources out of the book without providing the bibliographic information associated with them. Now, the topic is not one where primary or even secondary sources are likely to be found on the internet, but... Commented Apr 2, 2013 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


In general

Books are possibly valid references but:

  1. They are quite possibly not primary sources. We like verifiable primary sources;
  2. They need to be cited appropriately;

Simply pointing to a book and saying it supports an answer is not enough for this site.

In particular

The answer you cite is a good example of why we want properly cited books and verifiable references. It contradicts basic scientific results and it contains numerous fallacious arguments.

In the answer you are referring to — which I will delete as it has been challenged and it has not been fixed in one year — there are five paragraphs.

The first three simply point to the book (but not to a specific point in the book) and dismiss 70 years of nutritional science with

Mr. Taubes points out some fundamental flaws in the scientific basis of the study, as well as how the conclusions became dogma. He also criticizes many studies for implying causation, when the evidence only supports correlation.

So the first part is a faulty argument ad verecundiam, which points to a possibly flawed argument by Mr. Tabues: even if many studies are wrong, that fact alone doesn't prove his point is correct.

The fourth paragraph is an anecdote, which we explicitly discourage. Furthermore it gives potentially dangerous nutritional advice:

I personally started low carb (and paleo for a brief time) because of this book. It's been two years, and I have lost...

There are literally hundreds of stories of people doing low-carb/paleo and curing...

Therefore it's a flawed hasty generalisation followed by an argument ad populum.

The last paragraph

Once you realize that there really was no scientific basis for the current "saturated fat causes heart disease" hypothesis, it's easier to be open to the contradicting studies that show how we really should be eating.

is the "science is close-minded" argument, which is an ad hominem.

  • Good point on primary sources. Secondary sources are often well accepted for academic work, but it makes sense that they're not good enough around here.
    – Muz
    Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 1:13
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    I want to emphasize that your point "They need to be cited appropriately" includes page numbers and quotes.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 4:11
  • I'm not a huge fan of page numbers per se in references as they depend on the edition. I generally just provide whatever chapter/section/subsection data is available and expect that a followup reader can grep the text as needed. Commented Apr 2, 2013 at 0:06
  • @dmckee A full citation would pin down which edition was being referred to.
    – user5582
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 12:29

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