Reference Bloat

4 February 2012 at 10:42 am 5 comments

| Peter Klein |

Nature News (via Bronwyn Hall):

One in five academics in a variety of social science and business fields say they have been asked to pad their papers with superfluous references in order to get published. The figures, from a survey published today in Science, also suggest that journal editors strategically target junior faculty, who in turn were more willing to acquiesce.

I think reference bloat is a problem, particularly in management journals (not so much in economics journals). Too many papers include tedious lists of references supporting even trivial or obvious points. It’s a bit like blog entries that ritually link every technical term or proper noun to its corresponding wikipedia entry. “Firms seek to position themselves and acquire resources to achieve competitive advantage (Porter, 1980; Wernerfelt, 1984; Barney, 1986).” Unless the reference is non-obvious, narrowly linked to a specific argument, etc., why include it? Readers can do their Google Scholar searches if needed.

In management this strikes me as a cultural issue, not necessarily the result of editors or reviewers wanting to build up their own citation counts. But I’d be curious to hear about reader’s experiences, either as authors or (confession time!) editors or reviewers.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science. Tags: .

Law and Strategy Perceptions of Opportunities – Part 2

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Fred  |  4 February 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Different fields have different citation practices. As an editor I have asked authors and as an author often been asked to cite certain works. I believe this is appropriate where the aim is to better situate an article with respect to a particular discourse community. It is not appropriate where the aim is to pad the journal’s or a reviewer’s citation score.

  • 2. Michael Marotta  |  5 February 2012 at 9:53 am

    I am surprised but pleased that this came to the attention of Science. I noticed it when I returned to university in 2006. It seemed so obvious that there was not much sense in commenting on it. I did note in my 2010 review of The Invention of Enterprise for The Libertarian Papers:
    “Michel Hau provides 178 references for his 26 pages, including Weber’s Protestant Ethic in the original German.
    In the chapter “Entrepreneurship in the United States, 1865–1920,”
    Naomi R. Lamoreaux conjures five citations to bolster this claim: ‘There was no higher goal for a young American male to pursue during this period than to be a ‘self-made man’—to make a great deal of money through dint of his own hard work and ‘pluck.’ ‘ Anyone who wishes to tout the Gilded Age as an Era of Altruism will need to see her five and raise her one.”

    It is a bit frustrating to read old papers and find no reference citations – were they just making this up? – but admittedly, in our time, the pendulum has achieved its highest potential. I am working now on a paper about the “Supply and Demand Curves.” I am encouraged to submit it without citations.

  • 3. Rafe  |  6 February 2012 at 6:41 am

    What about the demand to have more citations to papers in that particular journal!

  • [...] Peter Klein offers up some thoughts on “reference bloat” in academic journals: Nature News (via Bronwyn Hall): One in five academics in a variety of social science and business fields say they have been asked to pad their papers with superfluous references in order to get published. The figures, from a survey published today in Science, also suggest that journal editors strategically target junior faculty, who in turn were more willing to acquiesce. [...]

  • 5. Bo  |  16 February 2012 at 3:48 am

    This is (or can become) a problem if not managed by…well all of us. I have several times been asked to include not specific references but simply to “go through earlier issues of this particular journal and make references to relevant articles” by the editor(s) in chief. Now, my response is always that I will certainly (re)visit earlier issues of the journal in the interest of me having potentially omitted a very important relevant citation; however, I will under no conditions (or threats) include references that do not add value or that I do not consider pivotal and relevant to the argument just because they happen to be published in the particular journal (not A++) that I am targeting..

    I can think of several management journal editors that are (have been) using this technique to boost the citations and impact scores of their journals. I think it is fundamentally wrong and does a dis-service to the academic field; however, ultimately – given editors being rational, self-interested and guile individuals – it is in the hands of us authors to guard the integrity of the journals…Though – in my mind, the editor should serve as the guardian and ensure that, for instance, reviewers do not force authors to include completely irrelevant citations to their own work…but given the “nature” of academia, I am afraid my views may lead to a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” in Hoppes’ words…

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