Sight what you cite


13 August 2009


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

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.