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Quarter of citations in top journals «wrong or misleading»

Forensic analysis of citations within leading scientific periodicals reveals alarming lack of rigour in academic referencing.

One in four references found within leading scientific journals are incorrect or misleading or fail to provide evidence for the claims made by authors, says a new study on academic «quotation errors».

In a paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, researchers from the US and South Korea analysed some 250 citations taken evenly from five highly prestigious science journals to check whether the references supported the statements made by authors.

While three-quarters of references in the sample taken from Science, Science Advances, Nature, Nature Communications and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences were accurate, 25 per cent were deemed not to substantiate the points raised by authors, says the paper, titled «Quotation errors in general science journals».

About half of faulty citations (12.9 per cent of all citations in the study) were assessed as «impossible to substantiate», where authors put forward «citations that could not possibly be substantiated by an outside reference», such as when their own missing methods section was compared to methods sections used by other experiments.

«Sometimes the entire methods section of a paper would be one sentence, explaining how the authors used the same methods used in another paper», explained Aaron Cumberledge, from the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, who co-authored the paper with Neal Smith, from Florida-based AdventHealth University.

«But when you looked closely, it was very difficult to see if they had followed that paper’s methods entirely – there might have been one crucial variant that changed, but it was impossible to tell», Mr Cumberledge told Times Higher Education.




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