There are some consistent expectations that are required in every academic text, regardless of the scope of study or where it is published. One of those constant factors is the need for quotations and references to cite other work that the author used during their study to back up the information they were sharing with the reader. Because they want to be seen as an authority on the subject, references and quotes are necessary to demonstrate their findings, and these must be accurately cited.
This is especially important in medical journals, when the quotes and references support the author’s claim of a significant healthcare finding or idea, or when the citations add to the subject relevantly. The problem recently, though, has been that many authors or publishers have been inaccurately using these quotes and references, adding in information that is irrelevant to the topic, either inadvertently or in hopes of boosting citation indicators.
How Quotes and References Affect Citation Indicators
How a journal ranks in success is determined by measurements like the journal impact factor, or JIF. Part of this measurement is the citation index, analyzing how many times articles in a journal have been cited, on average, in a specific year. The impact factor is a big deal for journals since it helps them to get a legitimate rating of prestige, so it makes sense that a reputable publication would want to get as many of their articles referenced as possible.
The JIF, or IF, is calculated by using the ratio of the number of citations of an article in a specific year, typically the current year, compared to the items published in that field over the past two years versus the number of citable articles during those same two years.
Types of Quotation Errors
Because citation indicators and JIF factors are relatively new to the field of academic science, there have not been a lot of studies correlating quotation and reference accuracy in medical journals. Those that have been performed, though, were eye-opening in the results. There are significant amounts of quotation errors across the board, regardless of the journals, subjects, and study sources.
Quotation errors can range from minor to major. These include mistakes like indirect references, when the ideas of a specific author are published in someone else’s work, but the author has not read or accessed the referenced work. Instead, they are simply linking their work to theirs without proper research.
In addition to indirect references, inaccurate quotations are another problem. The same research can be quoted differently multiple times, and not all of the paraphrases or quotations are accurate to the original source. Authors can choose to attribute work to another scholar, using their findings to corroborate the new research, even when the link is tenuous at best. Because most people won’t go back and check the linked source, authors often get away with these inaccurate references and quotations. This is extremely dangerous in the healthcare profession, so when medical journals are found to be perpetuating this problem, it must be addressed immediately.
Why These Errors are so Common
When a reader of a medical journal turns to that publication as their source of information, they expect it to be accurate. Even a tiny decimal point error in a healthcare resource can be a life or death issue. The problem is that the author and researcher may submit their work correctly, but as it is edited, peer reviewed, and transitioned into publication, mistakes can happen.
Spot checks by editors are crucial components in medical journals. Peer reviewers and editors should always check for the correct placement of citations and cross-reference quotations to their original material. However, with the need for timely publication of healthcare information, this accuracy isn’t always a focal point, thus the prevalence of quotation and reference errors.