Primary, secondary and ternary sources

I am a bit annoyed that scientists don’t always seem to get the difference between primary, secondary and tertiary sources. Consider this situation:

  • Prince (2008) reports that pigs are approximately blue.
  • Quail (2006), Quaffer (2008) and Qi (2009) use the approximation that pigs are blue.
  • Rout (2012) is a review article discussing the aforementioned works.

Which of the following are valid?

  1. ‘Pigs are approximately blue (Prince 2008).’
  2. ‘Pigs are approximately blue (Quail 2006, Quaffer 2008, Qi 2009).’
  3. ‘We use the approximation that pigs are blue (Prince 2008).’
  4. ‘We use the approximation that pigs are blue (Quail 2006, Quaffer 2008, Qi 2009).’
  5. ‘We use the widely-used approximation that pigs are blue (Quail 2006, Quaffer 2008, Qi 2009).’
  6. ‘We use the widely-used approximation that pigs are blue (Rout 2012).’
  7. ‘The approximation that pigs are blue is widely used (Quail 2006, Quaffer 2008, Qi 2009).’
  8. ‘The approximation that pigs are blue is widely used (Rout 2012).’
  9. ‘Many authors, including Quail (2006), Quaffer (2008) and Qi (2009), use the approximation that pigs are blue.’
  10. ‘Many authors, including Quail (2006), Quaffer (2008) and Qi (2009), use the approximation that pigs are blue (Rout 2012).’

One thought on “Primary, secondary and ternary sources”

  1. Some people criticise the historicity of the Bible by pointing out that reported miracles such as water turning into wine are chemically impossible. This misses the point of what it means to be a miracle, and shows a poor understanding of how to handle a primary source.

    The criticism that they mean to make is that such reports are uncorroborated and that ‘extraordinary claims require extraorindary evidence’.

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