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A few funny* things about citations

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In honor of the recent Ig Nobel prizes, awarded for achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think,” I present a few funny* things about scholarly citations.

We can poke fun at the sometimes selfish reasons to include citation in your own work. From the Annals of Improbable Research:

The real purpose of introductions, of course, is to cite your own work (e.g. Schulman et al. 1993a), the work of your advisor (e.g. Bregman, Schulman, & Tomisaka 1995), the work of your spouse (e.g. Cox, Schulman, & Bregman 1993), the work of a friend from college (e.g. Taylor, Morris, & Schulman 1993), or even the work of someone you have never met, as long as your name happens to be on the paper (e.g. Richmond et al. 1994).

Occasionally, scientists stray from the jargon filled, obfuscating prose that makes up most journal article titles and add a touch of humor to the scholarly enterprise. This excellent post documents scholarly article titles that use movie titles for inspiration, with amusing results:

The good, the bad, and the cell type-specific roles of hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha in neurons and astrocytes.

It just doesn't roll of your tongue the same way as the original...

Unfortunately, and to my great disappointment, a study of articles with amusing titles in prestigious psychology journals by Sagi and Yechiam (2008) found that these articles were less likely to be cited than other articles with unfunny titles. Since funny titles are often less descriptive of the actual research, these articles could be more difficult to find in databases.

Of course, creating a bibliography is never a fun task. The lengths that students will go to to avoid opening up the APA Style Guide can sometimes be amusing:

Citation with error

Mmm. Cookies!

And of course the fabulous XKCD comic draws humor from the fact that while Wikipedia and publications need to cite their sources, public speakers could really use some citations too:

Wikipedian Protester

Wikipedian Protester

Have you noticed any ridiculous citations or absurd mistakes in bibliographies? Share with us below.


*I suppose this might depend on just how geeky your sense of humor is, but I think there are elements of the citation process that are pretty funny. Five thousand different citation styles!! Hilarious.

Works Cited:
Sagi, I., & Yechiam, E. (2008). Amusing titles in scientific journals and article citation. Journal of Information Science, 34(5), 680-687. doi:10.1177/0165551507086261

Bonnie Swoger About the Author: Bonnie J. M. Swoger is a Science and Technology Librarian at a small public undergraduate institution in upstate New York, SUNY Geneseo. She teaches students about the science literature, helps faculty and students with library research questions and leads library assessment efforts. She has a BS in Geology from St. Lawrence University, an MS in Geology from Kent State University and an MLS from the University at Buffalo. She would love to have some free time in which to indulge in hobbies. She blogs at the Undergraduate Science Librarian. Follow on Twitter @bonnieswoger.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Bora Zivkovic 12:49 pm 09/17/2013

    In my field:
    “Tripping along the trail to the molecular mechanisms of biological clocks.”

    and a strong rebuke to critics:
    “Methods of measuring phase shifts: why I continue to use an Aschoff type II procedure despite the skepticism of referees.”

    Link to this
  2. 2. Hadas Shema 4:47 pm 09/17/2013

    That XKCD comics should be hanged in every academic library.

    Link to this

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