mercredi 15 avril 2020

This one was in French, but it deserves translation in English : about fair citation in scientific articles

A friend who submits a manuscript to me quotes popular books in an academic text. I point out to him that the authors he quotes are compilers, moreover, but my friend replies that the texts he quotes are those from which he has taken the information he used for his own text, and that it is therefore only fair to quote these people.

What can we conclude? What can we do?

Yes, it is fair, but what about good practice?

First of all, let us observe that it is justice to quote these people... but injustice not to quote those who are at the origin of the works cited by the compilers.

And insofar as lazy scientists -let's say "fast", to be charitable- quote much more the "reviews", synthesis, compilation, works of popularization than the original works, we end up having only the compilers quoted, which is perfectly abnormal.
Injustice is established... all the more so since there is also an injustice in giving credit to compilers for works they did not do. For what are we quoting: the compilers' texts, or the compiled data? This is the first question that should have been asked, and the answer shows that the original works must be cited.

On the other hand, it is not a good practice to start from texts - especially compilations - when they are not perfectly recent, and not to show everyone that one is making one's bibliography, but especially because recent works make useful scientific revisions: this is the state of the art, and any older work, which would have been revised, should therefore not be cited.

All the more so since recent articles, which appear more often than reviews, syntheses or compilations, are published more frequently, and on more precise points. Moreover, if these articles are good, they will have made a tight bibliographical exploration, and which will have more acuity than those of the compilations.

Hence the conclusion: when one cites works, one must directly cite the authors of these works, and the authors of revisions of these results. Not the intermediate texts, and even less the compilations!

But obviously, this requires a lot of work, whereas my friend was lazily relying on reviews, syntheses, compilations... which avoided all the research.

But I end charitable: it was probably less laziness than ignorance of the rules of good scientific practice.

References (only some ;-))

A quote that served me well: Penders B (2018) Ten simple rules for responsible referencing. PLoS Comput Biol 14(4):e1006036.

An important article, because it says that quoting is still to have a critical eye: Nature Genetics. Neutral citation is poor scholarship. Nature Genetics. 2017; 49:1559. PMID: 29074946

A "best practice" article: Carol Anne Meyer, Reference accuracy: best practices for making the links, The Journal of Electronic Publishing, 11(2), 2008, DOI:

(text still in progress)

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