Citing Authors I haven't read

posted
18-Apr-18, 00:12
edited about 13 seconds later
Avatar for Paniked84
posted about 1 year ago
Hi everyone,

Looking for some advice here.

My supervisor wants me to cite an author, someone they frequently co-author with. I have not been able to get the person's work to read for myself. My school library does not have it, and the book costs $700 on Amazon, so I chose to cite other authors instead. In a recent conversation when I asked my supervisor if they had a copy of the book so I could read it and then cite it they responded: "why would you remove the citation, it says what you say it does"

Is this common? Do we often cite works that we do not read?
posted
18-Apr-18, 10:09
edited about 21 seconds later
by lucedan
Avatar for lucedan
posted about 1 year ago
I don't know if it is right or not ethically. It's quite common for sure:
posted
18-Apr-18, 10:28
edited about 25 seconds later
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 1 year ago
I think it is always better to give too many citations than leave some out. I would check how many citations this book already has. As if it has quite a few citations just cite is as other people have already reviewed it and thought it noteworthy. If it barely has any citations I would be more skeptical.

Just because you haven't read it doesn't mean that you dont have to acknowledge it. The book still exists and your reviewers might be able to read it and you dont want them asking why haven't you cited it. If your supervisor thinks it is relevant, take that as your verification of it being relevant enough to cite. The worst case scenario is that you get accused of plagiarism of their work and citing it generally stops all that nonsense (I know it is far fetched but that is why cite other people).
posted
18-Apr-18, 16:06
edited about 1 minute later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 year ago
You cannot cite papers you have not even read. Neither should a professional researcher (even at PhD level) be simply taking their supervisor's word for anything like that. At this level you are supposed to be critically evaluating everything you read and hear and making your own mind up about things. You run the risk of being questioned on that reference during your viva.

No supervisor should be behaving the way yours is but it no longer surprises me to hear about this sort of thing.

You should try using an Inter Library Loan if possible.
posted
18-Apr-18, 16:56
edited about 11 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 year ago
Is it on Google books? If it is about a particular theory or something that you need to mention as general background (i.e., to make a point that this school of thought is it there - and this is a well known reference to it) then citing it makes sense whether you've read it or not. As long as you know that that's what it's about.
posted
18-Apr-18, 17:34
edited about 14 seconds later
Avatar for Paniked84
posted about 1 year ago
Thank you all for your input!! Greatly appreciated for sure.

The book is not on google books, nor is it available on inter-Library Loan, which is why I thought to ask my supervisor if they had a copy of it. I fear that if I challenge them on this issue it will cause problems with our relationship since they have a relationship with the author. So, I think I should just cite it, but I did want to know what I should be doing to shape my own academic ethics.

Thankfully it is just a section of my thesis for the rationale where I have many other authors cited for this one argument and not for a particular theory. However, you all confirmed what I had thought, I should be reading the authors I am citing. Nonetheless, my gut felt uncomfortable with this for a reason.
posted
18-Apr-18, 17:35
edited about 14 seconds later
Avatar for Paniked84
posted about 1 year ago
Quote From lucedan:
I don't know if it is right or not ethically. It's quite common for sure:


Great article! Thank you!
posted
20-Apr-18, 00:58
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 year ago
Quote From Paniked84:
Thank you all for your input!! Greatly appreciated for sure.

The book is not on google books, nor is it available on inter-Library Loan, which is why I thought to ask my supervisor if they had a copy of it. I fear that if I challenge them on this issue it will cause problems with our relationship since they have a relationship with the author. So, I think I should just cite it, but I did want to know what I should be doing to shape my own academic ethics.

Thankfully it is just a section of my thesis for the rationale where I have many other authors cited for this one argument and not for a particular theory. However, you all confirmed what I had thought, I should be reading the authors I am citing. Nonetheless, my gut felt uncomfortable with this for a reason.


It's a shame. You are backing down over a very trivial thing which you say makes you uncomfortable. You are going to face much more difficult ethical issues than this. Are you likely to stand up for yourself if you can't even deal with this trivial issue?
Why won't your supervisor simply let you read the book to allow you to form your own opinion?

It's your PhD and your choice how to handle this problem but in my opinion you are making a mistake not challenging this and you are creating a potential landmine for your viva.
posted
20-Apr-18, 01:00
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 year ago
Quote From Tudor_Queen:
Is it on Google books? If it is about a particular theory or something that you need to mention as general background (i.e., to make a point that this school of thought is it there - and this is a well known reference to it) then citing it makes sense whether you've read it or not. As long as you know that that's what it's about.


Yes maybe but you at least have to open the book and peer inside to know that surely?
posted
20-Apr-18, 09:10
edited about 13 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 year ago
Oh absolutely - if you get hold of it!!
posted
20-Apr-18, 11:49
edited about 21 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 year ago
And if you can't get hold of it then you can't be absolutely certain what it contains and therefore can't ethically reference it.
As a researcher you are responsible for everything you write. Just like an athlete is responsible for everything they put in their body. This seems a very easy black and white case here. I don't see any scope for shades of grey.
posted
20-Apr-18, 12:03
edited about 7 minutes later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 year ago
Well, chances are he can google it and see what it is about and what the key themes are in it even if he is unable to read the whole book or part of it. Unless he is saying that it says a specific thing and he isn't actually sure whether it does say that, then I don't see what the big deal is really. Yes of course it is good practise and makes sense to read every source you cite. But in some instances, it may not be possible or even necessary. For instance, if you just want to acknowledge that there is a particular alternative view in the field. For example - Chomsky posits that language acquisition is an innate skill (Chomsky, 1965). If you can't get the book but you and everybody in your field knows that this is what this man stands for and that's what that book was about and you're citing it just to show that there is a view out there that is alternative to your own... then what is the big deal?
posted
20-Apr-18, 22:06
edited about 21 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 year ago
I also cite lots of statistics papers that I've never read... I need to acknowledge them because they authored the approach or the program... but in most cases reading them would be a complete waste of time! : )
posted
23-Apr-18, 09:33
edited about 4 minutes later
Avatar for starryeyed
posted about 1 year ago
This will be a horrible thing I'm proposing here, but given the choice I'd pirate the book in question. Being true to the knowledge is more important in this case. Misquoting a source - if one person makes a mistake in citation and the rest replicates it - is very harmful for research. There were several times I'd actually look into the paper I was supposed to cite and turned out that the source was simplified by the review to the point of misinterpretation, and I learned.
If it's a rare gem, you might consider writing to the author for the excerpt you need.
posted
24-Apr-18, 17:18
edited about 3 minutes later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 year ago
Quote From Tudor_Queen:
I also cite lots of statistics papers that I've never read... I need to acknowledge them because they authored the approach or the program... but in most cases reading them would be a complete waste of time! : )


starryeyed has explained the problem above. Your approach risks ending in the precise problem described in the news article above. The credibility of any researchers involved in this sloppiness has been destroyed with a risk of retracted papers and the end of their career.
Of course there is "accepted wisdom" but you should not reference the original papers if you can't verify them for yourself.
I can show you how I get around this via an example.
The whole of Chemistry is based on the Born-Oppenheimer approach. The original paper for this is in Geman and I cannot read German. If I want to work on approaches for which the Born Oppenheimer approximation breaks down and is no longer valid then I have a problem in terms of referencing. I have two solutions. The most obvious one is to take advantage of an English translation of the original paper. I then reference the translation paper. That paper would subsequently reference the original and the path is complete without me having to reference a paper i cannot read. The second approach involves referencing a secondary source such as a book which describes the information I want. Again the book should be referencing the original paper as per their responsibilities to science.
Thee may be other approaches but referencing literature you have not read is misconduct at best and at worst it means the papers of those who engage in it cannot be trusted as legitimate research resources becaue the authors cannot know for certain if what they are talking about is valid other than through hearsay. That might be OK for the general public in their daily lives but as professional researchers it is our job to be pedantic on things like this. If we dont do it, nobody else will do it.

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