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I have information that I found on YouTube, and when I searched for it on Google, I did not find it in any book, not even in an article, and nor in Google Scholar. Can I mention this information without a reference?

I am afraid that it will have a reference without my knowledge.

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    Did you search for background on the presenter? One could hope that a serious presenter has more substance than just that video. Some kind of credentials? Does the video implicitly refer to other work of the presenter? It might be possible to find more-primary sources... Jul 8 at 23:34
  • 50
    Why not email the YouTube video creator and ask them where they got the fact from? If they don’t answer, that’s a good sign the fact is not trustworthy.
    – Dan Romik
    Jul 9 at 0:10
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    For what it's worth, wikipedia considers youtube an unreliable source and does not allow it to be used for citations at all.
    – Wastrel
    Jul 9 at 14:32
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    In searching did you use "quotes"? Did you include the name of the YouTube presenter among the search terms? Did you paraphrase the information? Did you stop at the 2nd page of the results? Did you check your spelling? Did you search using only English terms? Any one of these things might have led you to a blind alley.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 9 at 15:03
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    We cite "personal communication" when someone told us something and there is nothing concrete to link to, a youtube video already looks way better than that! Jul 9 at 18:41
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If you have gathered some information from a YouTube video, and if there is no better source for it; then the YouTube video is what you should cite.

Now whether a YouTube video is a reliable source or not depends on a lot of details.

If, for example, the YouTube video is a recording of a reputable academic giving a scientific talk, then you can treat it with the same level of trust as you would treat it had you attended the talk in person (which should include "remain sceptical until you see the actual publication").

If, for example, you are discussing a piece of art and you have come across a YouTube video by the artist discussing their process of creation; or even just a relevant critic commenting on the art, this could be a great primary source.

If, for example, the YouTube video is about a mathematical result, and includes a sufficiently detailed explanation of the proof to follow and verify the proof, it is a reasonable source to assert that the result is true.

If the YouTube video is of a random person (or worse a known crank, liar, etc.) spouting off random stuff, you're better off ignoring the "information".

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    If it's a crank, and OP needs the information, they can say, the only source for this claim is <known crank/doubtful source>, so at this stage the information is unreliable. You still should evaluate any information you get. You are not responsible for the source's content, but for what you tell the reader to extract from it. Jul 8 at 21:58
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    @CaptainEmacs Unless one is doing a meta-analysis of some kind of crankery, I definitely think one ought to ignore whatever they are saying. But these comments are probably the wrong place to get into a discussion about that.
    – Arno
    Jul 8 at 22:04
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    Youtube can be a valuable source, even better than what you might find in print. For example, in discussing a particular printing press, I cited youtube videos demonstrating the use of that press. Worth a thousand words as they say.
    – Neithea
    Jul 8 at 22:10
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    There's also the category of non-crank videos that I'd classify as "backyard scientists" that record themselves performing experiments like "what happens if we pour molten aluminium on some Orbeez?" If you wanted to cite their work in an actual scientific paper, you'd have to cite the youtube video.
    – nick012000
    Jul 9 at 2:58
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    @Greenstick I understand what you say, but let's take a more interesting case. There are a number of people who claim that history timelines at 1 millenium BC and earlier are off, possibly by several hundred years which would - they claim - resolve a number of inconsistencies. Assume this turns out to be true by improved archeological methods. Some of the earliest of these people were considered history cranks and did definitely cranky stuff in physics. Do they deserve citation? There are other examples, unfortunately, I only remember a vague outline, not the details and would have to dig. Jul 9 at 20:17
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If you’re going to use the fact in your academic writing, then yes, you have to cite it.

The real question is, is the source credible enough that it would be acceptable for you to trust that the fact it claims is a true one? The answer to that does not depend on the fact that the source is a YouTube video: some YouTube videos (say, of a lecture by a Nobel prize winner) will have as much authority as any academic text, and conversely some academic texts (e.g., by a well-known Holocaust denier or anti-vaxxer) will have no credibility even though they are written sources.

When you rely on a fact that someone else claims, you are tying your reputation to theirs. If they are spouting nonsense, it will make you look bad, unless you explicitly warn your readers that the source you are using is potentially unreliable.

But, regardless, you have to cite your source.

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    Agreed but I debate one point. Whether someone is a horrible person - holocaust denier, anti-feminist, sexist, racist, whatelse - (ideally) has zero effect on their scientific reputability, unless it conflicts with their field. A lot of very renowned scientist did awful things and were awful in general, but we don't debate their scientific claims. Of course, I wouldn't trust an essay coming from Newton about how to treat my wife, but that doesn't mean that Newtonian mechanics is invalid.
    – Neinstein
    Jul 9 at 7:02
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    @Neinstein The point is that a Holocaust denier's textbook about the Holocaust is not a reliable source of information, even thought it is (at least arguably) an "academic text". Likewise for an anti-vaxxer's textbook about vaccines.
    – kaya3
    Jul 9 at 9:46
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    @kaya3 sure, just wanted to point out that important implication, which was not that apparent in the asnwer.
    – Neinstein
    Jul 9 at 10:51
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    @Neinstein yes, kaya3’s interpretation was what I meant. In practice though, the sort of horrible people I had in mind usually but not always tend to have horrible views that focus on their main research area or at least are adjacent to it.
    – Dan Romik
    Jul 9 at 14:01
  • @DanRomik Ok, agreed. I'll remove my comment as it branches out too much and clutters the space. Jul 10 at 0:23
12

You still need to avoid a charge of plagiarism. If the information is "common knowledge" then you don't need a citation, but otherwise it needs to be attributed to a source. Perhaps the YouTube video had a presenter or something that identifies where the information comes from.

But, as a last resort, credit the video along with a date that you accessed it. The date is needed since things change. For video citations it is common to give the time mark within the video where the information occurs

3

You can cite Youtube videos, just include some explanation. The first reference of this PRL article about rigid-body rotations is a Youtube video so it's certainly been done before in a serious scientific article.

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    You have a link through your local library resource; those at other institutions won't be able to use it.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 9 at 15:40
  • This is true, but I'm not sure how comparable it is to the scenario in the question. This paper cites that particular video (Ref. [1]) as providing an intuitive understanding of an easily repeatable phenomenon, as well as other videos evidencing related phenomena, but also cites some more conventional sources. In addition, the Youtube channel hosting the first video is probably more respected than most.
    – Anyon
    Jul 9 at 15:57
1

Just as you wouldn't cite Wikipedia directly, you also shouldn't cite YouTube directly. The issue is that both sites present user-generated content immediately, with no peer review or fact checking process (Wikipedia arguably can have these features after the fact via community editors, but it's difficult to know when/if information has been verified). YouTube videos can't easily have inline citations, but academic videos often do cite sources in the description. If they don't, and especially if the topic discussed is something novel, I would consider the video (and maybe the uploader) to be an unreliable source. Consider the video to be like a clue or rumor -- there might be something to it, but you need to dig up more information; as others have said, contacting the uploader (or presenter if it was uploaded by proxy) would be a good first step.

Another thing to keep in mind is that anyone can create a YouTube channel with any unique name; if you're going to consider the video credible based on the credibility of the presenter alone (arguably reasonable but somewhat dubious as a credible presenter would have the same content published in a more rigorous context as well), be sure to verify that the uploader and presenter are actually the same entity.

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