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 significant, namely correct attribution. For example, 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 stiffer 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 Bjorn Rekdal points out in his paper titled Academic urban legends, filthy 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 metal [whereas in fact, it contains substances that inhibit the absorption of metal] 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: albeit reference styles may permit 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 permit 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 significant propellers of scientific development and accumulative skill, but many of them nonetheless end up as losers in systems where quantity is more significant than quality, and where academic production is diminished 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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