I love being cited. The leap of excitement when I get an alert e-mail from google scholar telling me that someone has not only found and read my work, but decided to refer to it in theirs, has a long tail. I feel chipper all day. It doesn’t really matter to me whether it forms part of their argument for conducting their work, or informs their analysis, it’s all good as far as I am concerned. I feel rewarded and motivated to work harder.
It’s a nice upside to publishing. Getting the same sort of alert from a slower system and finding out it was a self-citation to paper published a year ago, doesn’t have the same effect. Neither does realising that a paper or review that’s been out for six months has not yet been cited. But these are both simple, if not slightly gloomy reflections. The ones that can really play with your mind, and make you write blog posts, are when it’s a bit more complicated.
A year or two ago, I got around to publishing some data that had been lying about for a while and was just too big a pile to ignore. Despite its size, I felt the paper came together well, and we gave it a clear title and got it into a respectable journal. I was tickled pink that it was cited within about three months of publication. But, curious type that I am, I wanted to see how they’d used it. I supposed that their research was potentially as relevant to me as mine was to them (or so I told myself). What I found was a surprised me. They’d misread my paper. My paper shouldn’t really have been cited at all. What they needed instead was a reference to a slightly different lipid.
I felt a bit guilty, if I am honest. It was a bit like the time I was given too much change in a busy shop on payday—I didn’t feel like I needed the cash, but somehow there was no opportunity to give it back. Unlike that situation, with the mis-referencing, I then felt a pang of annoyance. How could they get it wrong? After all effort I have made and bollockings I have had about correct referencing, I was reading an article in which they hadn’t bothered to read the title of the paper they were referring to.
What I have been telling myself since is that this is Taoist karma. Obviously in reality this is as much hogwash as the next thing, but hear me out. I regularly tweet about lipid research (I’ve run out of jokes that fit into <140 characters and had no desire to shut up altogether, clearly) and so I see the new literature that comes up in the general field concerning amphiphilic biomolecules. Importantly for this anecdote, this is also the area in which I publish.
Can you feel what’s coming? Yes, that’s right: the new literature I see includes the papers that could or should have cited my work, but didn’t. There was a particularly fine example this morning.
It gave me a similarly powerless feeling to the one of being given a citation which I felt I didn’t deserved. The only difference was that I had a greater sense of injustice about not getting a citation rather than getting one incorrectly. But, the net result in my citation count is the same. So should I mind?
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