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I have just seen on Google Scholar that one of my papers received 2 citations from a certain group of authors in 2 already published journal articles. However, the work they are doing has nothing to do with my work. It is not even the same discipline (control systems vs. material science). And the statement with the citation is something that is not even closely related to any of my papers. So I am quite confused as to how this could happen. I do not have any problems with their citation. It is just completely wrong.

Now I am wondering what is the most appropiate thing to do. I see 3 options:

  1. Don't do anything
  2. Contact the authors and tell them that they are wrong about my work (and that my work is not even closely related to their work).
  3. Contact the Editor of the journal and tell them about it.

I'd appreciate if you can share your experience on such topics.

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  • Possible duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/q/49633/20058 Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 9:01
  • @MassimoOrtolano: Thanks Massimo for your comment. It is not exactly a publicate of your link as far as I see it. My question is about a completely wrong citation where even the disciplines are not fitting at all (and I am strongly wondering, why they even considered my paper).
    – PeterBe
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 9:32
  • I agree that it isn't a duplicate as there isn't an apparent intent to mislead here as there is in the other.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 12:40
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    Are you sure it is not predatory or this new trand compiuter generated?
    – looktook
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 14:43
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    There is a possibility that Google scholar citations are wrong. These are auto-generated, and this has happened to a colleague of mine. I would try to access the material and see if in fact you are cited before reaching out, using interlibrary loan if your institution has this feature and not available at your library.
    – sillydarla
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 17:55

3 Answers 3

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Start from asking what your ideal outcome would be, and then work backward to how you can get there. Or at least use the process to identify whether there is anything to do to begin with.

The point is: There is no actual harm to you from this citation: The worst that can happen is that someone reads these other papers, follows the links to the citations, and realizes that your paper isn't at all related to the other two sources. That isn't your fault: You didn't put the reference in. It just reflects poorly on the other authors. On the other hand, you just earned two citations that might be useful for getting a new job, getting promoted, etc.

As a consequence, I can see that it is disappointing to open your email and see that you got two citations, and then to find out that they are mistaken. But I cannot quite see why that would be worth doing something about. There is nothing for you to gain by following up with the authors, nor is there likely anything to be done about the issue: Journals aren't going to retract or replace papers just because there is a mistaken reference in it. It's true that you can spend a substantial amount of time on the issue, but I see no outcome or reason that would warrant the time investment.

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    Here's some harm that might come of this: There are Cabals of 4 or 5 friends who agree to cite each other in their papers (or list as co-author) thereby tripling the paper count of each member. So now a potential employer is considering interviewing me, but then notices that I have irrelevant citations. He suspects that these are my buddies who are dishonestly boosting my citation count. He doesn't want dishonest employees, so he strikes me off the short list.
    – B. Goddard
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 1:27
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    Thanks for your answer Wolfgang. You are absolutely right that I can't gain anything out of it. I was aware of that before asking. I just wanted to know how others react to such totally wrong citations
    – PeterBe
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 16:38
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I suggest that you just write to them (jointly) and ask what they believe the connection to be. They may have something interesting to tell you about their thinking, so give the mail a "neutral" tone, simply requesting information.

I wouldn't tell them they are wrong, and I wouldn't complain to any editor until you know more.

Perhaps they see some synergy that you are missing. It might even open the possibility for some cross-discipline collaboration.

It is possible, of course, that it is just padding or trying to benefit from your good name, but it might be something with actual value.

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    I add that by contacting them, you can also prevent some misuse of their work (including using it in a safety related subjects) since their work looks credible by putting some references, and someone may trust it without having time to go deeper in their citations.
    – O.Badr
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 5:55
  • Thanks for your answer Buffy. Altough I like your answer in general (and I upvoted it) there is no gain for me when I contact the authors and ask about a possible connection. The citation is ridiciously wrong and they obvious made an error (they surely wanted to cite another paper but wrongly clicked on my paper in their literature program). The fields are not even the same (in fact they are quite far away from each other) and I did not even use nearly one of the terms that they use in their citation of my work.
    – PeterBe
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 16:42
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For a slightly different take on this, compare it to general web hyperlinks.

If I create a web site, I can include links to anything & everything: Google, articles in major newspapers, government web sites, blogs, Stack Exchange questions, etc. Nobody can do anything about it, and it doesn't really matter! If I link to the New York Times does that mean that I have anything to do with the New York Times? No. Does it mean that the New York Times trusts me? Absolutely not. All it means is that I find the New York Times to be a useful place to visit for some reason. Perhaps I agree with their editorial opinions, or perhaps I disagree. Or I may just like their focus on New York City. Or whatever.

However, if I am perceived as an expert then my link means something. Not a lot, but something.

This is in fact one of the key issues with Search Engine Optimization. If I link to 1,000 other places, then my web site isn't any better or worse (well, could be worse if I am perceived as a link farm). Those 1,000 places don't get any benefit or harm from my link, since it is something beyond their control. But if I am an "expert" (e.g., a major well-regarded subject matter web site) then my link to you will count for "something". Enough "somethings" and search engines will figure out that maybe, just maybe your website is itself meaningful because of all the "experts" that point to it. But the arbitrary web sites (hey, read my Facebook page, I visited xyz web site!) won't affect that search engine ranking in any significant way.

Back to Academia. There are much more definite rules for how/when citations should be used in scholarly papers than hyperlinks in blogs (which have no rules at all). But you could have journal citations that reference something useful (prior relevant research), something reasonably interesting (similar fields) or something seemingly irrelevant. Unless the article that includes the citation is itself from a top author or (due perhaps to relation to current events) the article becomes widely cited in general (non-scientific) media, it doesn't matter.

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    Thanks for your answer.
    – PeterBe
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 16:44

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