On 12 January, 2010, the British tabloid newspaper The Sun discovered h2g2. At the foot of an article about the footballer John Hartson, currently fighting brain cancer, was an odd, unrelated remark about h2g2's front page:
THE BBC's website has a new section. It's called h2g2 and promises answers to life, the universe and everything.
Yesterday's big issue? Why We Slip On Ice. Seriously. Coming soon … well, you get it: Bears, woods, Pope, Catholic
As every British reader will know, The Sun is the top-selling newspaper by some distance. It attracts its readership with a diet of sensational headlines, celebrity gossip and a daily topless model on Page Three. Its influence is enormous, particularly at the time of a general election; the political party that The Sun chooses to back inevitably wins (or at least features in a coalition government). In 1992, when the newspaper backed the unfancied John Major to win, it celebrated with the banner headline "IT'S THE SUN WOT WON IT".
This site has waited ten years to receive constructive criticism from this illustrious organ - somewhat odd, as its sister papers, the more staid The Times and Sunday Times have been occasionally citing h2g2 since 2000. Still, there's no such thing as bad publicity, so they say. It's good to know that someone out there is reading what we write.
Citations and Where to Find Them
In March 2009, I wrote two h2g2 Post articles about how h2g2 is referenced and reported in the outside world. I had sifted through the results of not only Google, but a couple of academic and newspaper search engines too, and I found around 100 references to h2g2 articles in all sorts of publications, which I duly documented.
When I set out a few weeks ago to search for any new ones, I thought I might find another ten or twenty or so, but in fact I've found over 200 more. It seems like a good time for an update.
The rapid increase in citations is due to two very handy Google products: Google Scholar and Google Books. There is also a Google News database, but at the time of writing not many newspapers appear to submit their articles there - I'll be keeping an eye on it, though.
Google Scholar allows the full-text searching of many thousands of academic research papers - something which has previously only been available to subscribers to academic search engines. It features not only those papers which have been published in peer-reviewed journals but also unpublished doctorate theses and other student papers (I haven't included all the unpublished papers in my list). To save time, you can also set up Google Alerts to e-mail you if something new appears in the Scholar search. I've set one up for the search string 'h2g2'.
Google Books performs a similar full-text search on books and periodicals. Many books will let you preview a selection of the pages, so if you find an h2g2 citation, for example, you can often read the context in which it was used. It can be tricky though, sometimes, as the following story explains.
Dan Brown - h2g2 Researcher
Perhaps the most commercially successful novelist in recent times is Dan Brown, whose blockbuster The Da Vinci Code has sold upward of 80 million copies to date, netting him a cool $250 million. Brown's secret, some would say, is to never allow facts to get in the way of a ludicrous plot, and his astonishing success has spawned a multitude of books which have tried to make some sense of what exactly he was saying in the novel regarding the Church, misogeny, religious art, secret brotherhoods and murderous monks. One such review is The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code, written by Richard Abanes, a Broadway actor/dancer/singer and, in his spare time, a Christian investigative journalist.
So, why am I mentioning all this? Well, Abanes' book appears in the search results if you type 'h2g2' into Google Books. Looking further, it's one of those books which allows a limited full-text access, so you can read some chapters in full, but you can also search the rest of the book - the hidden part - for any particular text string. If Google Books finds a hit, it just prints the line that the string was on. To see the lines which come before and after it, you will have to search again, perhaps guessing what words might appear on those lines.
This can make it quite a painstaking task to identify h2g2 citations, but fortunately it wasn't too difficult to decode the Da Vinciesque hidden message in Abanes' book, and it's a cracker. Within Abanes' piece-by-piece deconstruction of Dan Brown's evidence is one particular claim of his, namely that modern banking originated with the Knights Templar, the secretive order of crusaders which lies at the heart of his plot. Abanes claims that Brown probably found this nugget of banking history information in the h2g2 entry A272558 - The Knights Templar, written by researcher Adz in 2000.
So there it is: proof, if it were needed, that Dan Brown is a fully paid up h2g2 Researcher. Oh, and Dan, if you're reading this, I didn't mean what I said earlier about the ludicrous plot. Just a little jokette. And feel free to drop me a note on my personal space if you don't know what to do with all that money.
That's the thing about writing articles and posting them on the Internet: you never know who is reading them. Two bodies who do, and you might find this surprising, are the US Federal Government and the US Military.
Air Force Space Command produces the glossy journal High Frontier for space professionals, and in a 2008 article on "Military Positioning, Navigation, and Timing", Lt Col Jon M Anderson quotes from the unedited1 h2g2 entry A427925 - Jester's Condescending English Dictionary - K, to explain his use of Kinkler’s Second Law.
Have you ever wondered how Americans are so well prepared in the event of natural disasters? Well, it's the job of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, part of the US Department of Homeland Security. FEMA issues lots of publications to help citizens cope with anything from oil spills to earthquakes, and in their 2006 reading list Bibliography of Emergency Management, they list Woodpigeon's A207415 - Extinction Level Events. Something tells me, however, that if this is useful, it may be a little too late in the day.
My favourite, though, has to be the US Army's School of Advanced Military Studies, based at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In their 2008 report, "The Role of Sanctuary in an Insurgency", they make good use of the h2g2 entry on, wait for it, A2875421 - Napoleon Bonaparte. Expect the manoeuvres from Boney's Peninsular Campaign to filter through to front-line operations in Afghanistan some time soon.
On the other hand, you can always find your entry has been cited in one of the more, how can I put this, off-beat publications.
Mina and Blues Sharks's entry A679016 - The Obscene Publications Act is referenced in Jacki Willson's 2008 book The Happy Stripper: Pleasures and Politics of the New Burlesque. Anybody who would like to learn more about this fascinating branch of the performing arts will be delighted to know that much of Willson's book is available to browse on Google Books. Not that I've checked or anything.
Claude J Summers, on the other hand, has written a series of books on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender culture. The Queer Encyclopedia of the Visual Arts cites Emily's h2g2 entry A710821 - David Hockney - Artist, whereas a reference to Python fan Danny B's A687954 - Graham Chapman - Writer and Actor appears in The Queer Encyclopedia of Film & Television.
Spare a thought, though, for h2g2 researcher and committed atheist Alex "Tufty" Ashman. His fine entry A18592815 - The Invisible Pink Unicorn has now been cited in the 2010 Journal of Religion & Society. Don't worry, Alex - we won't tell anyone.
So, which entries are cited the most? Well, there is a clear leader so far: Thrid's entry A787917 - An Explanation of l33t Speak has been referenced in at least seven books and newspaper articles since it was published in 2002. It must plainly be one of the most definitive sources out there for interpreting this geeky language.
Four more entries each have four separate citations: the collaborative entry A640018 - International Tipping Etiquette, Atlantic Cable's A1091350 - How To Understand Statistics, Farlander's A1103798 - The Hippocratic Oath and The Depressed Yak's A2903663 - French Secularism - Laicite - the last of which has become quite topical this year.
You'll find all the h2g2 citations we know about listed at A46972182. Have a browse and see if any of your entries has received wider coverage.
Oh, and if you see any others out there, do let me know!