The rise of citational justice: how scholars are making references fairer

Read the full story in Nature.

Citations are not just a way to acknowledge a person’s contributions to research. Because funders and universities commonly consider citation metrics when making decisions about grants, hiring and promotions, citations can have a significant impact on a scholar’s career, says Cassidy Sugimoto, an information scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “Citations, in many ways, are the currency of the academic market.”

Yet studies in bibliometrics have revealed persistent biases in citation patterns — women and people of colour, for instance, garner citations at lower rates than men do. An increasing number of researchers are calling on academics to acknowledge the inequities in citational practices — and, by paying more heed to work from groups that are typically under-cited, take action to reduce them. Some are referring to this idea as ‘citational ethics’ or ‘citational justice’. Initiatives include computer code that helps academics to estimate the balances of gender and race in their papers’ reference lists, a push for ‘citation diversity statements’ in research papers, and websites dedicated to highlighting papers from under-recognized groups. Journals, too, have started to take action, with some introducing guidance and tools for authors to highlight and address citational inequities in their own papers.

These ideas have critics, but many say that such a reckoning is long overdue — both for scholars whose works have been under-recognized, and for the broader benefits to academia.

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