Is it time to abolish Vancouver?

How about that for a clickbait title?  I was going to call it “Editors of journals with number based referencing systems – use your power to change the system” but in these days of impact factors I thought I would emulate those journals with exceedingly high IF scores, which seem to specialise in non-informative, yet grabby paper titles, and many of which persist in using my bête noire, the Vancouver style of referencing.

The hated (by me) Vancouver style

So why am I sounding off now? Well, I was just about to submit an invited review, but thought I had better read the instructions to authors first 🙂  To my horror, I discovered (yes, OK, I should have read the instructions to authors before starting to write the paper) that the journal in question wanted the references formatted in Vancouver style. I don’t have much time for even vaguely sensible numbered citation styles such as the Chicago system, but as you will already have gathered, the Vancouver style really, really, annoys me.

Source –

Defenders of the system (and I am sure there are some) might point out that in these days of reading online,  journals such as Science,  that use this awful system have active links to the numbers within the text which bring up the citation in a separate box. This does, however, involve moving your mouse/cursor/finger to it instead of reading it instantly. As a reader I find this unsatisfactory to say the least. I like to see the authors as I read the text.  It may seem picky, but this gives me instant context.  As someone who has been around a while and usually knows the field quite well and, as a field ecologist, blessed with an excellent memory, seeing the name and date, gives me a pretty good idea of the accuracy of the citation context. Displaying references in non-alphabetical order also gives me brain ache. I visualise my brain in two ways, first as a series of file record cards and then as a series of filing cabinet drawers in which the folders (memories) are arranged alphabetically and by date. I then mentally find the right folder and on reaching the appropriate record access it.  My office may be (in)famous for its chaotic appearance, but my brain

My office – the perfect working environment (I know where everything is) 🙂

is obsessively and very neatly arranged and catalogued 🙂 as are my bookshelves and offprint collection. The office is a different matter.

As a referee, where, in my opinion, you most definitely need to know the citation context, you do not have the click and display facility that readers of the published paper have. This makes checking references onerous, frustrating and very annoying.

As an author the situation is even worse, although I guess those folk who have sophisticated cite as you write systems will laugh knowingly and make comments about being stuck in the past. What really is frustrating to me is that I have to

Stuck in the past – me?

go through the paper line by line and manually convert the author date citation in the text (I have to use that system when composing, to keep track of what I am referring to) to numbers and then if I find that I have to add a new reference or if Referee 3 demands that their papers are cited, renumber everything.  Arghh!!

It would be so much simpler if all journals used the same system, preferably that used by the journals of which I am an Editor, and as an example and to to gratuitously draw your attention to another of my bugbears, in the text, (Leather 2004) and in the reference list, Leather, S.R. (2004) Reinventing the wheel – on the dangers of taxon parochialism and shallow reference trawling! Basic and Applied Ecology, 5, 309-311.

One reason given for using the Vancouver and Chicago systems is that it saves space. This might have held some water in the days of print journals and page budgets, but now that most journals are electronic and page budgets no longer exist, it is not a valid excuse. I therefore implore my fellow editors, reviewers and authors to join me in condemning the Vancouver system and to convince their publishers to abolish Vancouver, the system that is, not the city, which I am sure is a beautiful place and well worth preserving and visiting.


Filed under Bugbears, Science writing

4 responses to “Is it time to abolish Vancouver?

  1. I couldn’t agree more with all you have written here.

    I am also regularly ridiculed by colleagues for not using reference managers, because that is the thing these days. Well I’m 34, so I still consider myself a young generation guy. It’s not just you being stuck in the past. It’s just not for everyone. It slows me down. It takes me longer to work and import all the references in a reference manager than to learn them by heart and look up their APA style in scholar Google. I do realize that this also is not for everyone, so I applaud everyone that uses what works best for them.

    Regarding the numbering. Horrible. Only valid reason is lowering word count in text (and that really should not be my problem). It does no justice to anything else. I love the journals that still display up to five names. In the end, this science game is also about letting the people know you are an expert. Getting your name out is vital. If there are no names in text, how do you get your name out?

    By the way. Great office 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jim kirby

    I hope you feel better now that is off your chest!

    Liked by 1 person

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