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This morning when I opened my email I was very excited to find a Google Scholar update telling me of two new citations from two different sets of authors each to a different paper of mine. As usual, I immediately checked the papers to find out if the authors were praising or criticising my work (or perhaps they found a mistake in one of my papers!). To my surprise, in one case the authors wrote a misleading statement which resulted from stretching quite a lot some of my conclusions. In the other case, the authors simply made an incorrect claim (details below for the curious). It's not the first time this happens to me - I even got one citation completely out of context once. How to react to this kind of situation?


Details for the curious:

  1. In the first case, the authors cite a paper of mine where I compare two different methods to calculate elastic properties of materials. My main conclusion is that one of the methods converges much faster than the other one with the size of the basis set - in other words, it's computationally much cheaper. For calculations with usual basis sets the first method is much more accurate than the second one, with disagreements between the two in the order of 10% or even 20%. They claim that I show that both methods agree within a 1% of each other, which is misleading at best, because for the second method to agree within 1% of the first one one needs to do a very expensive calculation. That is one of the main points of the paper and it got completely overlooked by the authors.

  2. In the second case, the citation is plainly wrong. The authors cite my paper as an experimental work on InGaN semiconductors while it actually is purely computational.

  • Are you asking whether or not you can prevent them doing this or issue some sort of retraction, or how you should react to how it makes you feel to have your work misrepresented? 'How to react' could do with some clarification. – Meelah Jul 30 '15 at 9:58
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    @Meelah The aim of the question is also to establish what depth of action is proportional to the "offence". So in a way you're asking me to answer my own question. I would not ask someone to retract their paper because of this, that seems quite extreme. – Miguel Jul 30 '15 at 10:14
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    'to establish what depth of action is proportional to the "offence"' That's a clearer way of asking the question. – Meelah Jul 30 '15 at 13:30
  • I agree with Boris' answer, but thought I'd point out that sometimes a plainly wrong citation is due to the authors not using an automatic citation engine (e.g., using Word instead of BibTeX) for a journal that uses numbered citations (e.g., IEEE journals). If you move text around (or delete text), it's easy for those citations to get off. – Ben Hocking Jul 31 '15 at 11:51
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It is no different from finding any other mistake in a paper that you read --- just write e-mails to the authors politely explaining the errors. It is in their interest to fix them.

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    When the other papers are already finished, fixing is pretty hard to do. It's not quite enough for an erratum. – gerrit Jul 30 '15 at 10:40
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    @gerrit Even still, they should appreciate getting clarifications on what you did. This could easily come up when they talk about their work and in their future work. – Kimball Jul 30 '15 at 11:37
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How about the five stages of reaction to grief?

  1. Denial: "Hmm, that can't be right..."
  2. Anger: "They're so stupid!"
  3. Bargaining: "Dear Smith & al, in your paper Foo you cited my paper Bar saying that XYZ. I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that, in reality, XYW. Will you consider blah-blah-blah?"

and now it's either

  1. Depression: "Oh no, they're not responding/not agreeing, I have to write the editor of the journal. :-( :-( :-("

or

  1. Acceptance: "Great, they've agreed to fix it and write their own erratum for the journal to publish."
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You can draw conclusions about the quality of their work. Probably, it might be not a very high honor to be cited by them. I would most likely ask them to remove the technically incorrect references to my work, and supply the reasons for that.

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How to react to this kind of situation?

I think it depends on the context. For:

They claim that I show that both methods agree within a 1% of each other, which is misleading at best, because for the second method to agree within 1% of the first one one needs to do a very expensive calculation.

There is a risk that the literature is now misleading. You could reduce this risk with a clarification, perhaps in a technical report version of your work. A diligent third party can now establish the truth.

For your second case:

the citation is plainly wrong

You can probably ignore this, since it is a clear error, which should not mislead.

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