Sunday, October 19, 2008

Every scientific discovery builds on what came before. Because of this, research papers are chock-full of references to previous papers, leading you to believe that those older studies actually have been read and digested and are now being expanded upon. After noticing that a lot of citations with identical mistakes were showing up in various papers, two researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, set out to study the problem. They looked at the way well-known, heavily-cited papers had been referenced in subsequent papers. Regarding an influential paper on crystals published in 1973, New Scientist explains:

They found it had been cited in other papers 4300 times, with 196 citations containing misprints in the volume, page or year. But despite the fact that a billion different versions of erroneous reference are possible, they counted only 45. The most popular mistake appeared 78 times.

Obviously, these pursuers of scientific truths hadn't actually read the original paper, but had just clipped the reference from another paper, a trick they probably learned in college and never stopped using. Of course, some of the scientists who got the citation right hadn't read the paper, either. In the final analysis:

The model shows that the distribution of misprinted citations of the 1973 paper could only have arisen if 78 percent of all the citations, including the correct ones, were "cut and pasted" from a secondary source. Many of those who got it right were simply lucky.


Post a Comment


blogger templates | Make Money Online