As I was reviewing a manuscript recently, I saw this sentence:
.." and existing models to explain this phenomenon are inadequate .
 FSP 2001"
So, is my model inadequate or did my 2001 paper state that existing models were inadequate.. or both?
In fact, I couldn't even tell from the context of the rest of the paragraph or manuscript, which was clearly an undigested chunk of thesis. I am not even sure the citation is appropriate in this case, at least not without significant rewriting of the statement and surrounding text.
This issue was easy to deal with in a short review comment.
In two other recent manuscripts under review, I saw something like this:
"It has been proposed that dolphins strongly prefer scones to croissants [FSP 1996]."
and "It is well known that cats who fall out of a tree from a height of at least 8 meters are likely to fracture their back left leg [FSP et al., 2009]."
Thanks for the citations, but I never proposed or stated either of those things, although I know at least one of them to be true.
Those problems were easy to deal with as well. I wrote that the citations were inappropriate, as I had never discussed dolphin pastry preference or cat/tree issues, at least not in print.
I am sure that I have mis-cited references before, too, especially in long papers with lots of references and lots of co-authors. We hope that such things will be caught in review, but in some cases they are not. As a reviewer, it's easy to catch mis-citations of work we know well (i.e., our own) but we aren't always familiar with every citation in every paper.
In another recent example, an author mis-cited (in my opinion) another author (not me). I hesitated to make a comment in my review, though, because the mis-cited author was a co-author of the manuscript under review. Shouldn't he be the one to remove the mis-citation? I was quite confident that the citation was inappropriate, so I made a gentle remark about this in my review, and the citation was not removed.
I like being cited, of course, but I don't like being mis-cited. It would bother me a lot if someone thought I really had proposed that dolphins prefer scones if I had, in fact, never said that. This is not just my being ethical, although, like most of my professorial readers, I have received intensive and largely irrelevant training in the responsible conduct of research. My objections mostly stem from my dislike of being misquoted or misrepresented.
Not to obsess about citation indices (too much), but despite the possible of loss of a (mis)citation, it is possible that fixing these errors in review might ultimately lead to more citations, not fewer. For example, if someone cited my work as having said something really stupid about dolphin/scone preferences, this might discourage future readers (and citations).
Does anyone cynically believe that the increased emphasis on citation indices increases the number of mis-citations, either because authors are more eager to cite their own papers (even if not entirely appropriate) or because reviewers are less likely to correct mis-citations of their own work?
6 months ago