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I've found that a few tools uses in scientific research, request that if you use them, you add the paper they were discussed in to your bibliography.

For example:

  • Theano requests you cite: "“Theano: A CPU and GPU Math Expression Compiler”
  • Scipy requests that you cite it as a misc reference.

Is this common? Is it reasonable to cite a paper (in Theano's) case, that I have never read, because I have used the tool? Is it ethical?

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  • 1
    closely related to: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/8948/… Jan 5, 2014 at 13:49
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    It is necessary. Jan 5, 2014 at 23:35
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    Or you could read the paper.
    – E.P.
    Feb 26, 2014 at 19:49
  • To be fair, there is a limit. If I use SciPy to do a t-test, I will no more cite them than I would cite Matlab, Ubuntu or my Casio calculator. In some cases the tool you used is not relevant to the paper, and in those cases, I would not feel obligated to mention it just to include some citation. Think of the citation as necessary information in your paper, not as payment for the use of a tool. Sep 21, 2015 at 10:36

2 Answers 2

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I would be pragmatic here. Citations are a currency in science. If the authors of a tool help your research by providing the tool to the general public, it is only fair to reference their work in the way they requested it to happen - and, certainly, citing a given reference in a paper that uses their work is not an unreasonable request. I cannot image why it would be unethical to say something like

We have used Theano [1] to evaluate XY (...)

in your paper, where

[1] J. Bergstra, O. Breuleux, F. Bastien, P. Lamblin, R. Pascanu, G. Desjardins, J. Turian, D. Warde-Farley and Y. Bengio. “Theano: A CPU and GPU Math Expression Compiler”. Proceedings of the Python for Scientific Computing Conference (SciPy) 2010. June 30 - July 3, Austin, TX

As to whether this is common, I would say yes. Most authors of well-known tools in my area specify a preference for how their work should be acknowledged.

If you are bothered by not having read the paper you are citing, there is a simple fix for that - read the paper, and decide for yourself whether it is worth citing in that context (but, generally, the answer will be yes).

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In addition to agreeing with the answer of @xLeitix, I would also add that in some fields and journals, it is a specific requirement that tools and software are cited appropriately.

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  • Is Citing a paper, that they request you cite, appropriate citation though? Jan 7, 2014 at 12:31
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    If the paper they request you to cite actually describes the product in question, then yes, absolutely. You should of course check they are not requesting you cite something entirely different - that would be a problem. So, also here I agree with @xLeitix - you could just read the paper ;)
    – ipoga
    Jan 7, 2014 at 12:39

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