Thursday, November 15, 2007

The MisCitation of Me

Today I was perusing the titles of articles that just appeared online in one of the journals I typically read, and I saw one title that seemed sort of interesting in a peripheral-to-my-research but might-be-relevant kind of way. I skimmed it, and saw a citation of one of my papers. My first reaction was to be very pleased -- one of my 2007 papers was cited by someone else's 2007 paper, and that is nice. My second reaction was What?!??

The sentence that preceded the reference to FSP et al. (2007) was about a topic not discussed by FSP et al. (2007). In addition, the sentence seems to imply that FSP et al. (2007) has certain data on this topic, but in fact it does not. It has other data -- very nice data, in my opinion -- but not the cited data.

In other examples of incorrect citations of my work, I have been very annoyed, particularly if the citation accompanies an interpretation that is not one that I actually made. I have also been annoyed by examples of what I thought were abuse of my data or other research results.

But what about a citation that overall seems harmless, however wrong? My paper doesn't contain the indicated data, but that doesn't bother me nearly as much as having my interpretations or results distorted or otherwise misrepresented.

On the plus side, I have the citation in my citation index. On the negative side, what if the (mis)citation leads people looking for the non-existent data to my paper, resulting in massive disappointment and heartbreak when the sought-for data are not found? That would be so sad. I will try not to think about that and be glad instead that someone (mis)read my paper.

18 comments:

EcoGeoFemme said...

Do you now of any other papers with the cited data? Maybe they mixed your paper up with another one.

lost academic said...

I'm more inclined to think that instead of the author misreading FSP et al. (2007) and incorrectly attributing to you said data and topic, the author accidentally or carelessly attributed to you what should have been attributed to Schmoe et al. (xxxx). This seems most likely if it's a complete miss with both topic and data. If it's a poor interpretation of the paper or could have been a poor interpretation of another of your papers, you can begin to see where the author could have gone astray.

This actually does bother me because I know how important it is for many people first working their way through a body of literature on a topic to start with a set of papers and obtain a secondary set of papers via those citations. It would be frustrating to find that a cited paper could not provide the information purported by the first paper in which it was promised.

Michael said...

Can't you contact the author/journal and let them know about the incorrect citation?

Ianqui said...

resulting in massive disappointment and heartbreak when the sought-for data are not found?

Maybe that would be sad, but it's not your problem. That'll just make the citer look stupid to someone else other than you.

Female Science Professor said...

I should have said that in this case, the (mis)citation was a victimless crime. Schmoe et al. do not exist. The data cited do not yet exist.

Ms.PhD said...

I'm with Michael. I think you should think hard about correcting it.

I have one paper that has been cited too many times for me to rigorously check whether it was cited correctly in all of them (although I should some day, next time I'm really depressed about work and have time to be bored).

Since you know this is wrong, you don't have that excuse.

Kind of pathetic that our system is so wedded to citations that you'd rather have the citation credited to you, even if it's wrong. Really sad because I can see the temptation to just leave it be, but it should be easy enough to correct, and in theory isn't part of our job in science to, you know, propagate information? Preferably in a correct form?

Whatever happened to integrity?

Female Science Professor said...

Perhaps I should have used my special Attempt at Humor Font to spare you the speech about integrity, though it is always refreshing to be called pathetic.

Anonymous said...

ms.phd, I can't imagine trying to correct every time one of my papers gets miscited or misinterpreted. Granted, the second happens mroe often, and if it is bad enough,I will address it, but I probably would get very little done if I had to respond to every mischaracterization of my work. People can go and read it themselves and figure it out. I agree with ianqui, it is not FSP's problem.

FSP, is it possible they were citing you for an idea you speculated about in the general discussion rather than the data itself? I guess the difference between that and citing non-existing data would be pretty obvious, though.

Female Science Professor said...

It was pretty obvious they were citing my dataset.

I just talked to one of the reviewers who said that the citation wasn't in the original version of the manuscript. Perhaps it was a late and not well considered addition.

Kate said...

I'm in a similar situation -- I have but a single citation to my name (I only have two short report publications so far, so it's not surprising). The article citing me is in spanish, but I speak enough that when I opened the article to find my citation, I found that they cited me after saying the OPPOSITE of what I found. Let's say that it's like the authors wrote "The sky is green (Kate 2006)" though the TITLE of my paper is "The sky is not green." Couldn't be more obvious. Argh.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well one of our competitors, rather than cite our work cited the accompanying News and Views article. And this was a review article in a major journal. Balls...

ready to graduate said...

I'm with ianqui. Someone will check it out, find the actual results, and think, "What a bonehead" (that is, Author 2007 not FSP 2007!)

Anonymous said...

You should let the author know, since even if they don't correct it in the journal version they may be able to correct an online preprint (ArXiv?) version or put a note on their own website about it. I've done this in the past when I have found typos/small errors in my own papers that aren't large enough to justify an erratum publication and the associated page costs.

Last year we wrote a paper showing that a particular crazy model didn't fit some data. I noticed recently that it had been cited by one of the crazy model guys and went to look it up, expecting to find something along the lines of "Even though Dr Kill Crazy Model says it doesn't work, shucks to them". But no, our paper was cited as if it *proved* the crazy model!! Ingenious....

The Woman of Science said...

There's always "I'm sure I saw this somewhere... oh, I bet that was FSP in that really good paper that she wrote. I'll just gamble on it."

Wouldn't contacting the editor to get that corrected make you look a little too nitpicky? It would also embarrass the author in a pretty public fashion... The advantages of getting the citation right don't seem to outweigh the emotive fallout to me.

PhysioProf said...

I have a funny mis-citation story: Someone cited one of my papers by mistake because it ended on the same page that the correct paper started on in the journal they were both published in. The topics are completely unrelated. I assume this must have occurred through some kind of copy editing snafu.

Anonymous said...

Hi FSP--
--I would definitely communicate with the author in question. Find out what they were thinking. Use the opportunity to educate one of your colleagues. The worse that can happen is they get defensive, and you can write it off. The best that can happen is that everyone learns something.
--two bits from an FSP fan.

Female Science Professor said...

The author of the paper knows. A reviewer told him.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I find out new and interesting things when I look up something misreferenced. For example, when I went all the way out to an obscure library to find a book that was referenced as discussing a problem I was having with metal X, only to find that the book was titled "Metal Y in Branch of Physical Science" and didn't mention metal X once, I was annoyed. But then I realised that the book was probably the best/most useful text on the uses of Metal Y that I had seen.

Maybe someone will think they're lucky to find your misereferenced paper - it might be something cool they hadn't thought of looking for.