Hygienic Anecdotes

Bayesians must condition their beliefs on all available evidence; it is not cheating to use less than ideal sources of information. However, this process also requires conditioning on the evidence for your evidence. Outside of academic journals, evidence is often difficult to trace back to the source and is dependent on our notoriously faulty memory. Given the consequences of low-fidelity copying, should rationalists trust evidence they can’t remember the source of, even if they remember reading the primary source themselves? Should community members be expected to produce citations on demand?

This issue came to mind while trying to find a study I vaguely remembered about how the increased happiness of the religious could be explained by increased community involvement and while trying to factcheck PhilGoetz’s now infamous anecdote about Steve Jobs. I started contemplating the standards for relaying highly relevant, but potentially wrong or distorted information.

Luckily factchecking is much easier in the age of the internet. Wikipedia serves as a universally accessible standard reference, and Google serves well for everything else. But sometimes my google-fu is not strong enough. So, I’ll put this to the community: how should rationalists balance the tradeoff between neglecting evidence and propogating bad information?

Hygienic practices have been touched on before, but I haven’t seen any consensus on this issue. Are the standards for what you personally condition on and what you share in discussion different? What needs a citation and what doesn’t? Does anyone have recommendations for ways to better track the sources of evidence, i.e. reference management software?