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Inappropriate referencing in research

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 21 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2049
  1. Dean Fergusson, senior scientist
  1. 1Clinical Epidemiology Program, General Campus, Ottawa Health Research Institute, Box 201, 501 Smyth Rd, Ottawa, ON K1H 8L6, Canada
  1. dafergusson{at}

    Has serious consequences, and the research community needs to act

    During the preparation and writing of manuscripts, protocols, grant submissions, technical reports, and conference abstracts, authors must consider carefully the selection, completeness, and appropriateness of the articles referenced. Improper citation is not a benign practice; adequate and accurate citation is a necessity of scientifically and methodologically sound research. Rather than treating citation errors in a particular journal article as isolated incidents, we must appreciate that such errors can be replicated in further articles and, therefore, cause considerable damage over time. Incorrect information can be promoted, alternative evidence ignored, and redundant research undertaken following inappropriate use of references, impairing scientific progress and affecting patient care.

    In the linked study (doi:10.1136/bmj.b2680), Greenberg illustrates a number of serious consequences of inappropriate or inaccurate citation of published scientific work. Greenberg tracks the citation history of the hypothesis that amyloid β is “produced by and injures skeletal muscle fibres of patients with inclusion body myositis”.1 He concludes that the publication and respective citation history for this hypothesis offers empirical evidence that inappropriate or inaccurate citation can cause serious distortions, including bias, amplification, and invention. Erroneous and unfounded …

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