Citing Professor X

Eugene Volokh‘s post “Professor X Says” has, as best I can tell, nothing to do with the leader of a certain band of uncanny Marvel mutants.   It does, however, provide seemingly obvious but oft-missed advice on how one should handle arguments in academic writing:

If you want to endorse Professor X’s view, be clear and candid about it; say “As Professor X says, ‘This law is unconstitutional'” or perhaps just quote the assertion, “‘This law is unconstitutional,'” and cite X in the footnote. That will make clear to the reader that you are embracing that assertion, rather than leaving a question in the reader’s mind.

Putting things that way will also likely make it clear to you that you are now asserting something that you need to defend. And it should lead you to ask yourself, “Will the reader agree with the quoted material, and, if not, what counterarguments will the reader mentally make?” Unless Professor X is a very respected authority indeed, simply X’s name won’t persuade the reader. Either the quote must itself contain a persuasive and relatively complete argument, or you have to explain why the quote is correct.

If course, if the fictional Professor X were grading the paper in question, he could read the student’s mind and ascertain these things for himself.  For students of other professors, however, it’s probably best to follow Professor V’s advice.

FILED UNDER: Education, Popular Culture,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Alex Knapp says:

    I would note that Professor X’s ph,D.’s are in the fields of Genetics, Psychology, and Biophysics. Accordingly, he seems to be a rather poor academic source to cite for legal matters.

  2. gawaine says:

    Glad to see someone else had the same thought I did at Volokh’s headline. Given the number of libertarian/conservative blogs, including his, that have previously posted Potter, BSG, etc. posts, it didn’t seem like that far a stretch.