Citing other labs in your field: professional courtesy and scientific record

*Sigh* Another paper came out recently by another group in my small sub-field, whose work is pretty darn close to ours, and whom, despite 6 years of us citing their work in everything we publish, have NEVER. ONCE. cited ours.

Initially I was unaware of their work--despite thinking I had done all my due diligence and dug up everything potentially related when planning the project, I did miss their earlier paper on the topic, due to a keyword thing; being relatively unfamiliar with the field early on, I called it something different than they had called it and only searched for the terms that fell within my definition--and was corrected during review of my lab's first paper submission in this area. Since then, we've made a few new contributions, used different techniques than they do, and have always described their work with appropriate attribution of the fundamentals they contributed when we've reported our angles on the strategy our groups use in common. I have even met the PI in person--introducing myself and letting the PI know how much I like their work and that I have been following it for years now.

But either they are REALLY not watching their Web of Science citation lists, or they are deliberately choosing not to cite our research even in cases (such as this most recent one) in which it would be pretty appropriate to do so, since we previously reported a strategy that they report as a control experiment for monitoring essentially the same thing as we monitored in our work.

I feel like this must be getting to the deliberate stage--there are too many tools available now to know who is citing you and for what, and we really are about the only other group who regularly develops the kind of stuff we both work on. For them to have missed this is either because they're really out of touch or they really just don't care and/or are trying to ignore us/make sure we are ignored. But it's frustrating to know that despite doing the right thing, both from a professional courtesy standpoint and a scientific record standpoint--acknowledging the links that exist between work going on in different groups in a very small field--others might not behave the same way.

18 thoughts on “Citing other labs in your field: professional courtesy and scientific record

  1. When I was a postdoc, there was a Japanese group that was working in an area close to ours. I always made a point of referencing their work, including in a review article that has since been very highly cited.

    They were equally diligent about never citing our work.

  2. Yep. I have a few colleagues like this. Ultimately you have to hold to your own standards and not let the unscholarly jerkos drag you down to their level. At least you can know you are doing it right. And maybe the field will start to cap on this lab's paper citing practices eventually.

  3. Send them a polite email asking what's going on. I sometimes do that, of course always assuming it's not deliberate. What you want to do is bring your papers to their attention so that they cannot claim ignorance anymore. Anything happening after that email has to be labeled as deliberate, and while many people are willing to do things like this while claiming ignorance, very few scientists are willing to actively piss off their colleagues.

    • I agree with Enzo's comment! I did something like this once (actually twice, with the same lab, arg) and got positive results - they even edited a paper that was already in press at one point. However, this was a collaborator, so while it was more likely that we would be able to communicate and get these positive results, it was also even more disappointing to discover the oversights than dealing with a "competitor" lab.

  4. I have had similar experiences. Sadly, there are groups that will go out of their way to not cite your group's work. If you feel it's deliberate, it usually is. They are letting you know they don't consider your work worthwhile.

    A good review process should take care of this, though. As a reviewer I am quite adamant about people putting their work in proper context and citing relevant literature.
    It's quite shocking how many papers starts out with very incomplete citation lists, while overciting their own papers.

  5. My favorite reply when confronting the douchebags? "but you work on animals, and that's just not relevant".

  6. I'm surprised the reviewers of this "rival" group's papers haven't mentioned the appropriateness of citing your group's work.

  7. I don't know the specifics of this example, so I can't speak to their motives, but usually the citation lists from my lab are pretty short and limited to papers directly relevant to what the paper is about, as opposed to key papers in the field or as "courtesy" to those citing us. So sometimes, we don't cite things that on the surface, we should have cited. Most journals are now pushing for very short introductions, and by necessity citations are limited.

    That said, in your case the other lab does sound like a bunch of wankers.

    • Blaming it on journals / editors / peer review has merit but I say it is the responsibility of authors (and reviewers) in the coalition of the decent to argue back against these trends.

  8. Potnia, I had the opposite "but your work is on patients and ours is an animal model, so it's not relevant".., since then we have done animals and they added patients, and they still don't cite us.

  9. This happened to us a couple of times, and in one case it seemed malicious in nature. We hd independently discovered and published the same result a few months earlier, thus robbing the other group of their glory. Moreover, their final write up relied on one of our techniques so their work wasn't completely independent after all. As such, they couldn't just not cite our work because but they omitted any reference to in the introduction and discussion of previous work, burying the sole reference deep in the technical section of the paper.

    As luck would have it, I got to the referee the paper so I was able to point out this to the editor who requested the proper citation, but in the end there is no mechanism to discourage unethical behavior such as this.

  10. Send an email, not *asking* what's going on but making the assumption that they've overlooked your work or in some other fashion forgotten. Be polite, and simply say that you were interested in their Recent Paper X because of your own group's Recent Papers Y and Z. Maybe close with "looking forward to seeing you again at that meeting we've met at before" or something.

    That way, if they made some (semi-) honest mistake, they'll realize it and (hopefully) not make it again; and if they're being douchebags, they'll know you've noticed and (hopefully) will be shamed into better future behavior.

    • I've done this. In one case it elicited a profuse apology and that group has since cited our work. In the other case... *crickets* And continued non-citation. At least I know where we stand with them.

      Also, continue citing the offenders. No need to stoop to their level.

      • Exactly. Make the generous assumption that it's an accidental overlook, and you will know quickly if that was right or not. If you email with an aggressive question, even a person who made an honest error isn't going to be excited to see/cite you again.

  11. The worst case of this I've had was a detailed description of my lab's work (down to the stimulation frequency), supported by a citation to a different study from a BSD lab (which was related, but barely).

    I'd previously met the PI and presented the work in his department. He made it clear when we chatted that he saw me as a competitor, and was markedly uncivil. Happy days!

  12. Of course, when you cite them, use something like

    "Although apparently unaware of our earlier work as shown by the lack of citation, the BSD lab's follow on publication confirmed our results in every respect".

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