We’re not “citation police:” No more errata for omitted citations, says economics journal

An economics journal has corrected a paper for the second time for failing to cite previous studies — and said in a separate note that it no longer plans to publish similar errata, with rare exceptions. 

In September 2015, we reported on the first erratum for “Incentives for Creativity” — a paper that analyzed ways of inspiring creativity in the workplace — after it failed to cite relevant papers. One year on, the same paper has another erratum for a similar reason: not citing relevant papers from another field.

You don’t often see two errata for the same mistake — omitted citations — on one paper. Even less often do you see journal editors co-publishing a note saying they don’t plan on issuing any more such notices. Here’s an excerpt from the editor’s note in Experimental Economics:

The policy of Experimental Economics in the future is that we will not publish errata to correct a failure to cite previous work, except under unusual circumstances. In this regard, publication of this erratum should be viewed as a one-off and exceptional event. The policy of the journal will be to publish errata to an article only to correct important and critical errors in the description and reporting of the research presented in the article itself.

In “Editors’ note regarding citations of other work,” the editors go on to say:

Those authors who feel that they should have been cited or that were cited inaccurately in an article that we have published will have to use other means, such as posting notices on their own websites or contacting key researchers doing related work directly, to notify the research community of their concerns.

David Cooper from Florida State University in Tallahassee, co-editor of Experimental Economics and first author of the editor’s note, declined to comment on the specific nature of the latest errata, citing “legal reasons.”

Cooper told us the journal doesn’t get many requests to add citations to published papers — but in general, he believes most omitted citations are not due to malice. People sometimes fail to cite papers because scholarly literature is expanding quickly and it’s hard to keep up, he noted, or because they disagree with whether certain papers are relevant. 

What’s more, the journal can’t review the reference list of each paper to determine which papers are not cited, Cooper said, so expects authors to make a good faith effort to cite previous work.

Editors should not have to act as “citation police,” added Charles Noussair, another co-editor of Experimental Economics and last author of the editor’s note, based at the University of Arizona in Tucson. 

Here’s the latest erratum issued by economists Sanjiv Erat and Uri Gneezy — both at the University of California, San Diego — for “Incentives for Creativity:”

In the part of the instructions to participants that explains the rebus‐puzzle design task in our paper ‘‘Incentives for Creativity’’ (Erat and Gneezy 2016), there are several shared phrases from Kachelmeier et al. (2008). We failed to cite them, and wish to correct this here. In their paper, Kachelmeier et al. (2008) examine how worker productivity differs when compensation is based on quantity, creativity, or the product of both measures. They find that combining quantity and creativity measures in a creativity‐weighted pay scheme results in creativity weighted productivity scores that are significantly lower than those generated by participants with quantity incentives alone. See also Kachelmeier and Williamson (2010) for a follow-up study on self-selection, which shows that participants choosing a creativity‐based incentive scheme exhibit more creativity initially, but are not any more creative overall.

The paper was first published online in May 2015.

Gneezy told Retraction Watch that he and the journal were contacted by one of the authors of the newly added citations, Steven Kachelmeier, based at the University of Texas at Austin, who complained that the paper didn’t cite his work. 

Compared to the newly added citations, Gneezy pointed out that his paper asks different research questions, and has entirely different results; the only bit that is similar, he said, was a part of the method where the authors used some of Kachelmeier et al’s instructions without citing him. In a joint statement, Kachelmeier and Michael Williamson from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign told us:

We can only observe that the instructional wording for the rebus-puzzle design task in Erat and Gneezy (2016) exhibits significant overlap with the instructions to [Kachelmeier, Reichert, and Williamson (Journal of Accounting Research, May 2008)]. We do not know and cannot comment on how this overlap came about.

Kachelmeier and Williamson added that

both sets of instructions open with the following wording: “In this research, you will be constructing rebus puzzles. A rebus puzzle is a kind of riddle in which words and/or diagrams are used to represent a familiar term or phrase.” Searches indicate that the only two uses of this exact wording are KRW and Erat and Gneezy (2016).

When asked about the similarity in wording that Kachelmeier and Williamson refer to, Gneezy said:

We had this discussion with them and the journal, and the erratum represents what all sides agreed on.

Gneezy said he’s happy to have the chance to correct his paper, and was undecided about the journal’s move to stop issuing errata for omitted citations. On the other hand, Kachelmeier and Williamson noted:

While we cannot speak for the editors of Experimental Economics, we believe that it would be a mistake for a journal to have a policy against errata or other appropriate actions when a missing citation is to an article that provided informative input.

Disputes over missing citations can get ugly — earlier this year, we reported on an online argument over another economics article about prenatal stress that resulted in a wave of allegations against the authors, suggesting they deliberately missed citing the papers to claim more credit for the work.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

Editor’s note 12/29/16 1:46 p.m. eastern: We’ve updated the story to more accurately reflect Cooper’s comments.

Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.

6 thoughts on “We’re not “citation police:” No more errata for omitted citations, says economics journal”

  1. While we appreciate the dialogue facilitated by this entry, we must take exception to the assertion attributed to Professor Gneezy, if quoted accurately, that the two studies in question report “entirely different results.” While it is true that the two studies employ different designs to investigate different incentive features, they share the common theme of using a task in which participants design “rebus puzzles” to investigate how incentives influence creativity (or creativity and quantity, in the case of KRW). Moreover, both studies share the common core finding that incentives do not directly improve the ability of participants to submit high-creativity puzzles. For example, see Figure 6 in KRW (2008, p. 361) and the corresponding discussion.

    We invite readers to judge for themselves after comparing the two articles, including their instructions, as published in the Appendix to KRW and in an online supplement to Erat and Gneezy (2016), available at https://static-content.springer.com/esm/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10683-015-9440-5/MediaObjects/10683_2015_9440_MOESM1_ESM.docx.

  2. The journal seems to have a rather cavalier attitude about failure to acknowledge other people’s material. Good to know.

  3. I do not believe people choose not to cite papers because they disagree with them (and I’d be very surprised if I said this in my interview with Retraction Watch). Reasonable people can disagree on what papers are sufficiently closely related that citation is necessary. I suspect I said some variant on this sentiment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.