Sight what you cite

There seems to be a wide­spread prac­tice of researchers cit­ing papers they have never even seen, let alone read. For example

  • Some papers claim to do some­thing new when it has already been done in one of the papers cited.
  • Some arti­cles are cited that appar­ently have lit­tle to do with the rea­son given for the cita­tion, or which argue the oppo­site point of view to what is claimed.
  • A paper uses method X and cites an arti­cle which points out a flaw in method X, with no com­ment on why the flaw can be ignored.
  • Ref­er­ence details are so full of errors that the paper can never have been sighted.
  • Some mis-​​spellings of an author’s names are per­pet­u­ated through long series of copied cita­tions with no-​​one ever check­ing the details. I fre­quently cor­rect the list of ref­er­ences in papers to appear in the Inter­na­tional Jour­nal of Fore­cast­ing, but only where I notice an error, or where it looks sus­pi­cous. I haven’t time to check them all; besides, that’s the author’s job.

William Web­ber points out that there are cited papers that have never even been writ­ten! One famous paper has 215 cita­tions on Google scholar despite the fact that it doesn’t exist. And at least one of those cita­tions is by the author of the non-​​existent paper!

How can this hap­pen? It is sim­ply sloppy, lazy, and unac­cept­able. Here are a few com­ments that I regard as the bare min­i­mum for respon­si­ble scholarship.

  1. Every arti­cle cited should be sighted, and prefer­ably read.
  2. At the very least, check that the arti­cle cited really does say what you think it says.
  3. Type the ref­er­ence infor­ma­tion your­self from the orig­i­nal source, not copied from some­one else’s citation.
  4. Don’t just cite what other peo­ple say about cita­tions. For exam­ple, “Paper 1 says x about Paper 2″. Unless you have read both Paper 1 and Paper 2, and you have some­thing to say about the state­ment x in Paper 1, there is no point sim­ply repeat­ing it. It makes you look lazy and inca­pable of form­ing your own opin­ion. If Paper 1 is incor­rect, then you look stu­pid as well.
  5. Avoid lists of gra­tu­itous ref­er­ences. For exam­ple, “There has been a lot of recent work (e.g., a, b, c, d, e, f, g) on this topic.”  Instead, cite the rel­e­vant back­ground lit­er­a­ture, and make com­ments about how each cited paper fits in with what your paper is about. Just list­ing papers for the sake of extend­ing your own bib­li­og­ra­phy is rather pointless.
  6. Before you sub­mit your paper, go through the bib­li­og­ra­phy and check the details one more time.

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