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I have just accepted a paper for reviewing for a journal in neuroscience. While skimming through the paper, it appeared that the authors had heavily cited literature originating from the country where the authors are from. Since then I have carefully read through the Introduction and most of the Discussion section and I am quite convinced that this is so. There also appears to be a tendency of self citation, although it is hard to be certain.

To be clear, the paper has nothing to do with any specific region of the world and there are other papers (from diverse regions) that the authors could have cited but have chosen not to (whenever the authors are throwing in an example citation of the ilk: "...many studies have shown that xyz is quite common (Citation)".

My questions:

  1. Are there tools that can return the affiliation information (specifically the country and additional information like ORCID iD), given a list of references? I would like to see whether my intuition about the possible citation bias is correct (and if so, perhaps mention it to the editor)

  2. Should this be a matter of concern? I am quite new to peer review and I feel that wherever possible, the references should be diverse (once again, to clarify, the paper has nothing to do with a specific region of the world and that there are other studies which the authors could have cited)

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    For some countries this would seem to be the norm, actually. Maybe not for tiny ones with only a few universities, though. Also, the general rule is "cite what you use", not "cite everything that someone, somewhere, might think is relevant".
    – Buffy
    Sep 24 at 19:45
  • Is this an observation you would make if the authors and their citations tended to come from your own country? Sep 26 at 18:58
  • It's conceivable that this effect could be unintentional, I wouldn't jump to conclusions too quickly on this one.
    – Tom
    Sep 26 at 19:42
  • Actually, I recently just reviewed a paper where the author cited 14 of their own publications, so wouldn't surprise me if people had bias to cite authors in their own region doing research which is much more visible to them then in other countries.
    – Tom
    Sep 26 at 21:06
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Well, yes, the citations should cover relevant literature no matter where it originated. I wouldn't worry too much about tracking where the authors are or are from.

Simply note that there are many possible references missing (perhaps provide some), and note which seem excessive. It would be easy to imagine that the authors have been closely following work in their own country and are building on it appropriately.

I would give the authors a round to review their citations before approaching the editor. While I'm sure it's not your intent, it would be easy to come off prejudiced here.

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    It would be easy to imagine that the authors have been closely following work in their own country and are building on it appropriately. - Yes, e.g., they learn of things from local conferences/seminars. But it is also true they might feel obligated/pressure to cite certain people they know, depending on culture, etc.
    – Kimball
    Sep 24 at 21:34
  • To follow on Kimball's point, there may indeed be pressure from a government perspective - if you're funded by our tax dollars, and you have the ability to cite other work funded by our tax dollars, it only makes sense to increase the return on the government's investment when you can.
    – corsiKa
    Sep 26 at 20:38
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As someone who has received similar (valid) criticism literally last week - it's not necessarily malicious, might be just a lack of effort with finding relevant and more globally visible literature on the topic (such as papers with more citations) instead of relying on own or known from local collaborations/conferences work.

Good way to go about it is to cite it as a concern in your review and suggest improving this part.

If a reviewer is familiar enough with the topic and knows most major groups working on it, they might provide an example (e.g. "authors cite a tangentially related work X while a much more well-known work Y deals with the subject directly"). But this is not required, either.

My suggestion is cite this concern of yours in the review as a suggestion for improvement and let the editor handle it from there on.

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What language are the cited papers in? It's possible that some of the authors find it easier to read papers in their native language and that's why they mostly choose those in cases where there are multiple options. I wouldn't find that concerning, as long as the underlying information is fine.

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  • Citing sources in a language that is not English, excludes many readers, including most of the reviewers. If the source is not super-specific, it might be good to look for English replacements or supplements - depending on the novelty of the aspect the authors are referring to.
    – usr1234567
    Sep 26 at 20:46
  • In the present case, all papers were in English; you do make a valid point!
    – stuckstat
    Oct 4 at 16:45

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