I’ve just read a paper in which a previous paper of mine has been cited. The line in which the citation happens is something like:

It has been shown that technique X is successful in this problem [citation for my paper].

However, in my paper, I never mention technique X.

Should I do anything? The paper that cites mine is otherwise fine and really doesn’t need a reference for their use of technique X, since they spend a lot of time developing it anyway.

  • 5
    Why do I feel like the quote "any press is good press" applies here? Why not adopt a "mistake it till they make me" kind of position? – user79840 Nov 23 '17 at 4:07
  • 15
    @uwnojpjm: mainly because I want to be recognized for work I've actually done, rather than just get recognized for existing – Michael Stachowsky Nov 24 '17 at 3:31
  • 1
    @MichaelStachowsky Sometimes you just gotta play the hand you have. – corsiKa Nov 24 '17 at 15:42
  • 3
    Get used to it: It happens all. the. time. 🙁 – Konrad Rudolph Nov 24 '17 at 15:49
  • 3
    I don't necessarily agree with the "any press is good press" stance here --- if technique X actually isn't successful for this problem, then this might spread either a) the belief that OP published an incorrect result or b) that X is applicable and thus waste research time. – apnorton Nov 24 '17 at 18:32

There really isn't any action worth pursuing here. You could write the editors and ask them to issue a corrigendum stating that the reference was incorrect, but you'll probably waste a lot of time and effort for what is likely a very minor issue.

  • 9
    Agreed. An exception would be a prominent reference in a paper that is potentially read by a very large group of readers - as an extreme example, a reference on page 1 in a Nature article. – lighthouse keeper Nov 22 '17 at 20:17
  • 33
    If I (as a reader) came across a reference I was interested in or was important to my research, I'd be pretty miffed to waste my time digging through a paper that contains nothing about it. – Phill Nov 23 '17 at 0:43
  • 32
    @Phill: That’s true, but are you going to dig up the corrigendum to see that “Ref. X on p. Y should be Ref. Z?” – aeismail Nov 23 '17 at 1:20
  • 16
    @aeismail, well yes I would, I'm not sure how corrigendums (corrigenda?) are handled, but if it came with the paper I just downloaded or was on the website - which I'd hope it would be - then I personally would feel compelled to quickly glance over it before reading (maybe I'm weird)... Then when I found a reference etc. if it triggered my memory then I'd double check the corrigendum before following it. – Phill Nov 23 '17 at 3:36
  • 46
    I completely disagree with this answer. Although it seems unlikely that a corrigendum is required, it makes very good sense to at least contact the authors. If nothing else, it should stop them making the same mistake in their next paper. If the incorrect citation is just a typo, the journal might be willing to correct the online edition; if the paper is on, e.g., ArXiv, the authors might correct it there. – David Richerby Nov 23 '17 at 10:37

Since you never mention their technique, it is quite likely it's a "typo" (they accidentally cited a different paper than they meant, which, at least, in my field happens more than 0% of the time), or they just misunderstood your paper (or you misunderstood your paper). I agree with @aeismail that there's nothing you need to do, but if you want to get to the bottom of this, you could contact the authors, saying something like:

I noticed you cited my paper in ... about X. However, that paper didn't consider X. Did you mean to refer to another paper? If so, I'd be interested in knowing which paper.

  • 73
    Contacting the authors, rather than the editor, has two advantages. It is a less drastic, friendlier action, and it gives them an opportunity to fix the mistake in future papers in the same research area. – Patricia Shanahan Nov 23 '17 at 0:46
  • 6
    The stated situation doesn't appear to present enough evidence to go beyond where we should be assuming good faith. If the OP has a way to contact the authors, this appears to be a good way to handle this. The issue is much more likely to be a case where the author just made an unintentional error, as opposed to being intentional misrepresentation. I would expect that most authors who made such a mistake would want to know about it, so it could be corrected in any future publication. – Makyen Nov 23 '17 at 1:12
  • 3
    Good points there. I think I'll send a quick email, just to see what the idea was – Michael Stachowsky Nov 24 '17 at 3:30
  • 12
    How is this not the accepted answer! – WetlabStudent Nov 24 '17 at 7:25
  • 4
    @MichaelStachowsky You might want to consider changing the accepted answer. – pipe Nov 25 '17 at 15:12

Yes, you should write the authors.

I disagree with both @aeismail and @Kimball, in that I believe it is important to address the incorrect reference, and you should go to at least some effort to do it. Since it's not a critical reference in the paper OP mentioned, I would not do much, but we should be striving for published research to be absolutely correct on the facts (as opposed to opinions/perspectives/etc) so as not to confuse future readers.

So, a minimum of something like this (the wording is just a suggestion of course):

I've recently read your paper Their paper. Say something nice about their paper so as not to appear too hostile. I've also noticed the paper quotes own my work in Your paper regarding technique X. However, that paper of mine does not actually discuss technique X nor use it. Did you intend to refer to another paper (e.g. Some other paper which might be more appropriate)? Regardless, I'd like to ask you to consider taking some action to address this issue (perhaps by contacting The Journal), to ensure readers are not confused by the reference.

would be in order. Be respectful in addressing them.

  • 9
    I agree with writing the authors, but disagree with telling them what you think they should do. So that email but without the last sentence, and maybe add a sentence at the beginning saying something nice about their paper. – Noah Snyder Nov 25 '17 at 19:01
  • @NoahSnyder: See edit. – einpoklum Apr 1 '19 at 12:01

You have a number of options. Beginning with writing the editor, author, or publisher. If they refuse to redact or recall or issue or public correction, what you can do is come out publicly to scorn the misuse of your work. This is especially true for scientific works that are being deliberately misrepresented, or maliciously used to advance some agenda. You have a duty to call out false reasoning in all contexts, but even more so when your own work is being used to do it. At worst, your work will advance bad science or social ideologies, depending on the work. At best, if it goes unchecked and unnoticed, it could tarnish your own reputation because people may not verify what your work actually says.

  • 26
    This is gratuitously heavy-handed for the situation described in the question ("The paper [...] really doesn't need a reference for their use of technique X, since they spend a lot of time developing it anyway..."). Do you really think that "public scorn" is appropriate here? Come on. – David Richerby Nov 23 '17 at 10:40
  • 12
    Don't you think you slightly exaggerate things here? Did you consider that the wrong quotation may just be a typo and not the meanness of the author who is trying to end the the world? I find myself often copy+pasting references in LaTex from my bib, grabbing a wrong citation would stay unnoticed. – Mayou36 Nov 23 '17 at 21:06
  • 12
    Whooooa there. For all you know, the error is a simple typo and the paper says "Widget theory, as developed in [14]" when it should really be "Widget theory, as developed in [41]" or something similar. Please stop throwing around these wild accusations of gross misconduct that are based on nothing more than supposition. – David Richerby Nov 23 '17 at 23:00
  • 6
    Answerer, please be reminded of Hanlon's razor. – leewz Nov 24 '17 at 23:55
  • 2
    @CogitoErgoCogitoSum so you never made a mistake? I'm pretty sure you have so that shows your "inability" of writing a paper and "speaks to your competency in the field", right? It just happens that one selects the wrong publication in the library and soemtimes such mistakes slip through proofreading and peer-review. If it's nothing substantial (which from the description it isn't) it's not nearly as big as a deal as you want it to be. – user64845 Nov 25 '17 at 10:31

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.