How do you respond to not being cited where appropriate?

Oct 10 2016 Published by under Careerism, Grant Review, Peer Review, Tribe of Science

Have you ever been reading a scientific paper and thought "Gee, they really should have cited us here"?

Never, right?


Anyway, the question of the day is what you do about it?

As one wag* on Twitter put it, you could harbor resentment over the slight for next 30 years or so. Naturally, you should transmit your hatred for that other lab to your trainees well into the future. It goes without saying that you will subsequently attack all of that lab's grants and papers, and their academic progeny's grants and papers, when given the slightest opportunity to do so.

You might also just ignore it and let life work itself out. The rest of the field will also have the same thought if your work is actually related to the extent you assume, correct? And what is a citation here and there in the long game, eh?

Oooorrrrrr.... You could send a passive-aggressive**, or just plain aggressive***, email with your relevant papers attached.

What do you prefer, Dear Reader? How has it worked out for you? Is there ever any noticeable result? Other than venting your pent-up spleen?

Do you imagine these scenarios result from genuine ignorance or did the authors have an intent to conveniently fail to cite you? Are there mitigating circumstances of any kind? Is it possible that while you consider your work obviously and necessarily related, that this may not actually be the case?


**Congrats on your incredible paper, really great to see such convergence with our work (attached).

***You are failing to give my postdocs their due you scumbag!

25 responses so far

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Never contacted anyone over omitted citations. Never really done anything about other than be mildly annoyed.

    When reviewing manuscripts, however, I have been that referee who suggests that certain publications by AcademicLurker et al. are relevant to the present work.

  • serialmentor says:

    I have sent friendly emails. (Hopefully not too passive-agressive.)

    I think that the most likely reason why somebody wouldn't cite my work is that they don't know it. So I send them a note, and maybe they'll actually read my papers, see the relevance, and cite me the next time.

    And if they don't, at least the next time they don't get to say "Oh, so sorry, I didn't know you work in this area."

  • MoBio says:

    Don't do it normally but would recommend sending something to the effect " great work-really interesting. Here's something from my lab you may find interesting" ... and then a friendly goodby.

    In the distant past it irked me to no end--now not so much.

  • Selerax says:

    IMO a polite email going "Great work, check out our stuff on the subject" is perfectly appropriate.

    I have received some, found them useful and relevant and cited them in later submissions.

  • qaz says:

    It depends on my relationship with the person. I've definitely sent emails to friends who I know know about the paper they should have cited to complain with a frustrated "come on!" In the few cases where this has happened, my friend has replied with an apology (and one person bought me a drink at the next conference. 🙂

    For less close colleagues, I try to be polite and do not assume that they've read my paper. I usually say something along the lines of "you may not know about this work, but this relates to your work in the following way." I usually get something along the lines of "thank you for alerting us to this work - it looks interesting." In at least one case, I know that this led to a major change in that person's scientific direction (and a slew of citations).

    The most frustrating email exchange I ever had was with a colleague whose experimental work ended up explicitly testing a prediction from some theoretical work I had done. I sent this person an email saying "You may not know about this paper, but your experiment resolves this theoretical prediction, which has the following consequences...." Only to receive an email saying "yes, of course we know that paper. That's why we did the experiment." !

    I don't know if it's increased my citation count, but I get the feeling that it has increased my recognition and the likelihood that I get included when people try to arrange small and related meetings.

    PS. Interestingly, I once got a question from an editor that scientist X had complained that scientist Y had not cited paper X1 from scientist X in their paper Y1 and wanted scientist Y to publish an erratum note that citation X1 should have been in paper Y1. The editor wanted to know if scientist X had a valid complaint. (The answer in this case was "no", citation X1 would have been appropriate, but paper Y1 was not flawed without it, and there were lots of other citations that could have been included too but were not, presumably due to citation limitations) I have to say, I have never done that, and don't think I would.

  • Luminiferous Aether says:

    In the first 30 secs, option #1. In the next 30 secs and onwards, option #2 with the hope that as we increasingly present our work at meetings/conferences/invited talks, people in my field will become more attuned to my research program (newbie PI here) and cite it. Never bothered to email anyone for not citing my papers, although as a reviewer I have occasionally suggested that they cite certain papers, including some of mine.

  • Michael H says:

    I have emailed regarding missing references when it was clear they read my paper as a guide for theirs (read: virtually copied and pasted a methods section). Other than that, I don't really care unless a former student was 1st author, then I try to up their H index as much as I can.

  • Another Assistant Prof says:

    I didn't know that was ever appropriate.

    I'm in a huge field and have never expected anyone should know who I am, lowly junior PI. It truly sucks watching literature debates stack up and our are papers on the periphery are not included in it. But there are definitely multiple examples of someone publishing on a very directly relevant niche topic where they should have cited us. I just convinced myself that nobody does their literature searching properly these days and I need to suck it up.

    Hmm. Should I go back and cold email those people?

  • Elephant says:

    Like selerax and serial mentor, I've sent friendly emails pointing out to people that they might find a particular paper from my lab useful or interesting. Often, I've gotten nice responses back. I didn't assume malice or even incompetence.

    @Another Assistant Prof: of course you can write. These are just *people* after all, not horrible monsters.

  • Ola says:

    You're assuming I have the time/inclination to read papers by others in my field, in order to spot missing citations. I only read my own papers. Getting cited is usually not a problem

  • Rheophile says:

    I tried the friendly email route (pointing out a few papers, not just ours), got a nice response back. The next paper out from that group not only didn't cite us, but also didn't cite anyone else, pretending their work was the only one in that subfield. So now I'm going the lifelong resentment route.

  • sweetscience says:

    As a graduate student, I had a collaborator not cite me appropriately on several occasions, which was even more infuriating and more of a delicate situation than another rando in the field. The first case was a neglect of extremely relevant papers in a review. Our lab ended up writing a commentary/response paper, heavily referring to our work. This could be seen as either a compliment or passive-aggressive, and in a way it was both, but it had the advantage of not requiring direct interaction and improving everyone's publication record/visibility. The second time though, they mis-cited my paper which the collaborator was actually an author on, describing results opposite of what we found. My PI emailed the collaborator and asked for a correction; the collaborator agreed and since the paper was still in press it was ultimately published with the correct citation. I would certainly try either of these approaches again in the future.

  • xykademiqz says:

    I usually email, saying "Dear Such-and-such, I read your recent paper XXX with interest. Please find attached some of our recent related publications. Best regards, xykademiqz" Usually I hear back from the authors and often people start citing us.

    I also receive emails from others when I miss to cite their papers. I thank them and promise to cite them in the revision (and I do).

  • ROStressed says:

    I have had this happen a several times. When I have written the author, I just get ignored. When on one instance I wrote the editor to complain that the authors of the paper (still in preprint then) had given one of the genes they studied a new name, despite an existing name already in literature (from my labs work and paper), I was basically told that I was just overreacting and should just publish work on that gene.

    So, in my experience there is little to no recourse.

  • qaz says:

    @ROStressed - What you describe is much more serious than missing a citation. If the gene (or dinosaur) is already named, then that name is supposed to have priority.

  • ROStressed says:

    I agree, but it was a consequence of not citing or looking for the citation.

    I have found lately with many big transcriptome papers, the authors just name everything in a gene family (New Gene Family - NGF1 to 100) without really doing the background search. If your Previously Found Gene PFG1 = NGF99, it gets lost in the shuffle of big data.

  • qaz says:

    What a mess. I can just imagine how that is going to play out in the reproducability fight that is in the zeitgeist.

  • another not-so-young FSP says:

    Here goes my inner Polyanna, but I think the emails are great.

    I've gotten a few of them. One in a case where I'd considered and then did not cite as insufficiently close, and one where I really didn't even consider it as a borderline case - they were just not that related.

    In both cases, I was glad to know those people were reading my work, and thought it good enough that they wanted to be cited by me!

    I've never considered sending one myself, though. I probably ought to, but I'm somewhat allergic to self-promotion. I have been known to tweak someone about it if I see them at a conference/etc in the next year, though.

  • A. Tasso says:

    I only send friendly emails to people who _do_ cite our work, in an effort to provide positive reinforcement. I don't bother trying to send friendly emails to people who do _not_ cite our work. I just assume that if they did not cite it then there must have been a reason, and sending them a friendly email that is 100% likely to be perceived as passive aggressive is not going to change their mind.

  • A. Tasso says:

    Also, for people who consistently do not cite us (i.e., 2+ papers on the same topic where they could, or should, have cited us but did not) I simply return the favor and do not cite them, even when appropriate.

  • Alfred Wallace says:

    The most frustrating email exchange I ever had was with a colleague whose experimental work ended up explicitly testing a prediction from some theoretical work I had done. I sent this person an email saying "You may not know about this paper, but your experiment resolves this theoretical prediction, which has the following consequences...." Only to receive an email saying "yes, of course we know that paper. That's why we did the experiment." !

    This is rich!

  • MoBio says:

    I do occasionally get emails from colleagues where I didn't cite their work. I always send them a kind and regretful email and make sure to cite where appropriate going forward. Typically we just forgot to cite them.

  • Yizmo Gizmo says:

    Citing people is simple enough. No skin off anyone's ass, and the reviewers
    will find out.
    The skullduggery these days is much more aligned with torpedoing rivals'
    papers. I could barely believe some of the kooky persnickety comments by my rivals oops I mean peers on my last paper. And the editors believed every word of it.

  • frustrated scientist says:

    Had that happen to us where avery similar papers to ours did not cite our work twice, both from the same author. With the first one I complained to the editor (he never even responded), then we mentioned it to the last author, he smiled it away. Then came the second paper where they pulled that stunt again, not citing our follow up paper, which again preceded their second one. Once can be an honest mistake, twice...?
    Its a simple solution. You always meet twice. I got papers from the other group as a reviewer and oops, my alert level went quite up, finding significant flaws everywhere. Mind you, these were real issues, more or less significant, but I may have insisted less if the paper had been from another group...

  • I assume lack of knowledge rather than malice, and just send a simple polite email pointing out my relevant work. Sometimes I get cited in the future, sometimes not. If people send me relevant work that I have missed, I am thankful for the help.

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