Citation Curmudgeonry

May 7, 2015

  • In response to a post at Potnia Theron’s blog:

26 Responses to “Citation Curmudgeonry”

  1. Dave Says:

    A few of us in my little subfield were victims of this when a big Cell paper came out claiming it was the first to blah blah blah, but that absolutely was not the case and there were at least three or four papers from different groups going back 2 – 3 years on the same topic (with largely conflicting results). There was no mention of any of them, and a lot of citations were left out. PI of the cell paper was VERY famous.

    It’s just not cricket if you ask me.


  2. Juniorprof Says:

    you know how i feel about this. its totes true and totes infuriating. drummed up novelty in the pursuit of glamour magedness


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    All we can do is fight it one manuscript review at a time.


  4. drugmonkey Says:

    Although, to be honest, I fight it in my papers. If I think a paper is being overshadowed I’m sure to add the cite whenever I can. Maybe I should add the extra FU of saying “X confirmed the prior work of Y”?


  5. Juniorprof Says:

    I like that extra FU and might just use that myself


  6. The Wackademic Says:

    Dave – name and shame, dude. Maybe on pubpeer? Call the bsd out.


  7. Duke of Neural Says:

    I’d need to see some quantification of the ” has absolutely gone to shit these days.” Seems like older people complaining about children these days being spoiled: every successive generation is convinced that the younger generations are worse than they were. They assume this based on their own experiences which are limited to one generation. They fail to critically examine that assumption because all the other members of their generation are saying the same thing. They also fail to realize that THEIR previous generations said the exact same thing about THEM.

    I’d submit a hypothesis that if the problem seems to be getting worse, it’s because of two things which possibly could have actually changed.

    1. The internet makes it easier to find papers that should be cited

    2. Expectations of citations are higher as a result of the first reason

    TLDR: I doubt scholarship is “going to shit” so much as standards for scholarship are going up while actual scholarly quality is staying the same.


  8. GM Says:

    There is a famous Russian joke that goes like this:

    A Chukcha applies for membership in the Union of Soviet Writers. He is asked what literature he is familiar with. “Have you read Pushkin?” “No.” “Have you read Dostoevsky?” “No.” “Can you read at all?” The Chukcha, offended, replies, “Chukcha not reader, Chukcha writer!”

    For some time I have had the feeling that it increasingly well describes the situation in science these days


  9. Duke of Neural Says:

    PS. Maybe saying generations is wrong. Nostalgia is probably a better way of putting it.


  10. Dave Says:

    @Duke of Neural: you are way off base with the generational/nostalgia argument. Plenty of us here are very far from grey beards.


  11. jmz4gtu Says:

    A lot of the times citations get cut for space, especially in the glamour pubs. It is ridiculous, and the journals absolutely should put an end to it. If I were more cynical I’d suspect they know that limiting citations keeps their impact factors high (because if I can cite a cell paper or JMB paper from the same year, I’m going to cite the Cell). It also provides a convenient excuse to cut your nemeses out of the references.


  12. Duke of Neural Says:

    @Dave, I think that’s a false dichotomy. Most of the “Kids these days are no dang good” I hear is from 30 somethings. A lot of the “This field is turning to shit” I sense is from people who I suspect are too young to have seen multiple generations of science in their field.

    You don’t have to be actually old in order to talk about the good old days, nor do you need to be in a high position to claim that scientists these days suck.

    I should also say I wasn’t singling you out, nor was I saying the incident you brought up was acceptable. I was just commenting on the incidence of not citing well: I’m skeptical it’s increasing.


  13. zb Says:

    I’m sympathetic to the anti-curmudgeon argument, but in this instance, I think that “scholarship” (meaning putting your work in the context of what has gone before) is decreasing.

    I think the sheer amount of work that precedes us, now, say compared to even 1962, is one of the reasons (it’s just a lot harder to do the scholarship). In addition, I’ve noted a tendency for papers not available online to fall off the map (as though they’ve never existed). And, finally, the need to emphasizes novelty in order to make the most impact leads to ignoring the shoulders we are standing on (when not rewriting them into straw people who can be disrupted).


  14. zb Says:

    I wonder how one would try to uncover evidence, on the quality of scholarship? For the chasing after glamor articles hypothesis, I tried to look at the frequency with which the originators of the field would publish in the glamor journals v the current participants in the field (though one has to correct in some way for the increasing number of journals).


  15. Pinko Punko Says:

    I will say that as fields mature- a lot of the details get lost or swamped. Given the increase in publications and fields expanding, it is much harder to keep track of some of the original citations, though the weird thing is it is much easier to track them down. The idea is that it has to be something you specifically do when writing the manuscript- revisit the literature and sort of check around.


  16. drugmonkey Says:

    zb- It is the ever increasing pressure for unique, novel papers that is driving this. It isn’t the complexity of the foregoing literature when *none* of the relevant stuff is mentioned. Or the most directly applicable ones are conveniently ignored for more general cites that don’t show quite as clearly how incremental the present finding really is.


  17. GM Says:

    The other thing that’s driving it is the increasing pressure on people’s time.

    All the incentives are stacked in the direction of writing papers, not in the direction of keeping up with the literature, which happens to be in the same time growing exponentially and increasingly impossible to keep up with. Nobody gives promotions or grants based on the amount of knowledge one has accumulated. Is it any wonder people do not spend much time reading?


  18. drugmonkey Says:

    Maybe they could give some sort of grant for those with acquired stores of knowledge….maybe call it the Emeritus Award….use it to facilitate transfer of knowledge to a younger PI……


  19. AcademicLurker Says:

    @Pinko Punko: In the natural progression of things, major results are supposed to migrate into textbooks once they become established, or else simply become background knowledge everyone is assumed to have.

    There was a time when you would cite the original studies if you were to assert that proteins are linear chains of amino acids. No one does that anymore.


  20. Grumble Says:

    This is a consequence of a syndrome called Drinking from a Fire Hose: you can’t swallow all the water, just like you can’t read (or keep track of) ALL the papers that are relevant to your research. So the ones you remember are the ones you cite, and of course you won’t remember papers you haven’t read.

    The antidote to this is to do some research about every single thing you mention that you provide citations for, making sure your citations are accurate and complete. That of course takes lots of work, and when you are busy with Important Scientific Tasks (e.g., taking the Nature editor out to lunch), you clearly don’t have time for such minutia.


  21. Pinko Punko Says:

    AL and G that is part of it. Another part is not citing relevant papers from the last 3-4 years.


  22. jmz4gtu Says:

    Actually, though, it should be relatively easy to rig up a citation linking tool into your endnote, so that you can at least be made aware of papers that might be relevant to the works you are citing. Basically run a pathway analysis on the citation going in, and see what other papers are commonly cited with it, etc.
    Some of the journals already have this on their webpages where they suggest additional papers, which is how I end up 5 hours and 3 coffees later having got no work done for the day.


  23. physioprof Says:

    Dude, just because no one reads or cites the sub-dump shittio that you jacke offe to in your office doesn’t mean there’s some kind of systemic problem that needs to be fixed. You’re as delusional as all the self-interested “NIH PEER REVIEW IS BROKEN!!!” fuckers whose grants just got triaged.


  24. Anonymous Says:

    My postdoc PI used to tell me that I read too much. And that when you read “too much,” you lose the ability to have original thoughts. Fortunately, I was a literary scholar before I returned to physics — the anxiety of influence, indeed! — so I knew better. But I wonder if other people believe this shit.


  25. Grumble Says:

    “My postdoc PI used to tell me that I read too much. ”

    AHHHhahahahahahaha! I’d guess that most PIs have the opposite problem – getting their students and post-docs to read widely. I can just imagine what kind of schmucky science your PI does.


  26. L Kiswa Says:

    My postdoc PI made a big deal of making sure authors were appropriately citing the literature, and wasn’t shy about including his own group’s papers. This made a big impression on me. As a n00b, barely 3 years into being a PI, I find that many of reviews include a section essentially telling the authors they did not do a literature search! And yes, sometimes this includes pointers to some of my own papers.


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