Abstract

Citations are an important, but often overlooked, part of every scientific paper. They allow the reader to trace the flow of evidence, serving as a gateway to relevant literature. Most scientists are aware of citations’ errors, but few appreciate the prevalence of these problems. The purpose of the present study was to examine how often frequently cited papers in biomedical scientific literature are cited inaccurately. The study included an active participation of the first authors of included papers; to first-hand verify the citations accuracy. Findings from feasibility study, where we reviewed 1540 articles containing 2526 citations of 14 most cited articles in which the authors were affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine University of Belgrade, were further evaluated for external confirmation in an independent verification set of articles. Verification set included 4912 citations identified in 2995 articles that cited 13 most cited articles published by authors affiliated with the Mayo Clinic Division of Nephrology and Hypertension. A citation was defined as being accurate if the cited article supported or was in accordance with the statement by citing authors. At least one inaccurate citation was found in 11 and 15% of articles in the feasibility study and verification set, respectively, suggesting that inaccurate citations are common in biomedical literature. The most common problem was the citation of nonexistent findings (38.4%), followed by an incorrect interpretation of findings (15.4%). One-fifth of inaccurate citations were due to chains of inaccurate citations. Based on these findings, several actions to reduce citation inaccuracies have been proposed.

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