What is an author's responsibility while citing sources?
In emphasizing correct format and accuracy of details in citations and references, researchers should not overlook something even more important, namely correct attribution. For instance, you may write that ‘Author1 and Author2 (2013) used a 0.5% solution of chemical xyz and obtained remarkable results’ and provide all the required details of the source faultlessly formatted under references, but fail to notice that the original paper says chemical abc (and not xyz). Errors of this type are far more serious. Such ‘attribution’ errors are not only harder to detect and potentially more dangerous but also likely to be perpetuated when somebody else cites your paper as a source of that bit of information.
As Ole Bjørn Rekdal points out in his paper titled Academic urban legends, sloppy or inaccurate citations can lead to urban legends. Rekdal illustrates this with two urban legends, namely that (a) spinach is an exceptionally rich dietary source of iron [whereas in fact, it contains substances that inhibit the absorption of iron] and (b) this claim is the result of an error in placing a decimal point.
Rekdal’s paper also warns researchers that they should refrain from citing sources that they have not examined or consulted themselves: although reference styles may allow to do so by inserting ‘cited in,’ this is not a practice to be encouraged. His words are sure to strike a chord in the hearts of many academics, especially those who do not allow themselves to include a citation, no matter how apposite and convenient, unless they have seen the document in question for themselves and have ascertained that it indeed supports their contention.
To quote Rekdal, "Individuals with such attitudes are among the most important propellers of scientific development and accumulative knowledge, but many of them nonetheless end up as losers in systems where quantity is more important than quality, and where academic production is reduced to units being counted, rather than something worth taken into account."
You might also be interested to know about Getting the references right: Citing social media sources.
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