Scientists exposed as lazy readers

In the USA, a statistical study has been made on how many scientists really read the original studies they cite. The study showed that scientists often include in their references works that they rarely have bothered to actually read, reports New Scientist.

Researchers Mikhail Simkin and Vwani Roychowdhury of UCLA studied how information spreads around different kinds of networks. They noticed that similar misprints in references in a number of different studies were fairly common and came to the conclusion that many scientists simply copy a reference from someone else's paper without bothering to read the original source.

Using a statistical method, Simkin and Roychowdhury found that at least 77 per cent of the scientists, who had made a misprint, had not read the original paper and just copied the citation in a paper written by a fellow scientist. All of those who had got the citation right had not read the original source, either: 78 per cent of all citations, including the correct ones, had simply been "cut and pasted" from someone else's text.

The trouble with the "cut and paste" technique is that scientists generally trust that earlier papers have got the citations right. When there is an error, it spreads like weeds to new studies, New Scientist writes.

More about the study at www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993168.
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