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Scholarly Communications

Citation Diversity - An Introduction

What is citation diversity?

Citation diversity is the practice of citing works that represent a wide range of ideas and come from authors of diverse and at times intersectional cultures, languages, races, genders, and identities. “Citation diversity can be understood as an indicator of the diversity of perspectives that inform one’s thinking and writing and an understanding of (and appreciation for) the value diversity brings to research” (Ray et al., 2022). A goal of citation diversity is to counter the bias that is found in how scholarly work is published, used, and cited. Women, people of color, people within marginalized communities, those outside Western culture, and non-English writers are some examples of groups affected by documented biases in citation counts and publishing rates across fields. The act of correcting these injustices using citations as a tool of empowerment is not about redistribution, but of engagement and moving towards emancipation from unethical hierarchies of knowledge.

Conscientious engagement

“More than just a distribution of wealth, we can view citational justice as a matter of relationships.” (Kumar & Karusala, 2021)

Instead of seeing citations as an act of power, citations can be viewed as a means of constructing and reinforcing relationships. They can also be creative connections between disparate works. What connections with other community members would open the doors for new dialogue or collaboration, whether this is interinstitutional, international, or across languages and cultures?

Citation as an emancipatory act

Citation practices can be used as a tool for resistance to the unethical hierarchies of scientific knowledge production; conscientious engagement with these practices is an important first step for scholars to take (Mott & Cockayne, 2017). As a scholar, you can use citations as a feminist, as an anti-racist, or any emancipatory framework. See our further reading section for databases and resources that might be helpful.

Why is citation diversity important?

Citation diversity is more than diversifying the reference list; it is also about acknowledgement, engagement, recognition, and the valorization of ideas (Kwon, 2022). Citation diversity is one aspect of citational justice, which requires efforts directed towards equity in all aspects of scholarly communications such as funding, peer-review, hiring, allocation of awards (Kwon, 2022; Kozlowski, Larivière, Sugimoto, & Munroe-White, 2022). It is a reflective practice as well as an emancipatory action that acknowledges the work of authors marginalized within our global scholarly publication system and is more representative of the intellectual and social diversity within a field.


Pursuing Citational Justice - Situations and Responses

Here are a few tools and practices you can adopt to strive towards citational justice.

The following table is adapted from Kumar & Karusala’s (2021) article highlighting citation injustices they found within their own work or experiences as authors. Added to these are examples of how citations might be handled in a better way when not included in the original text. [x] or [x, y, z] indicate citations.

Type of citation injustice

A better way might be….

Cite-Me Cite:

Occurs when editors pressure authors to cite articles from the journal, publisher, or even themselves.

Note: This may also be an indicator of a predatory journal. Carefully investigate the legitimacy of the publication. 

Find another article or journal – this is not considered an ethical practice.

Name-Agnostic Cite:

Common when names are unfamiliar or difficult to pronounce. It might look something like “Other authors [x] have studied…”

Use their names explicitly within the text when citing their work. If you are engaged with their work, then likely you have become comfortable with it.

“G. S. Ramlackhansingh (1966) studied….”

In-the-Global-South and Unrelated-to-the-North Cite:

Two similar exploits, these types of citation can be seen as alienation and testimonial injustice.

“This area has been studied in the Global South [x]…” 

“…studied extensively in the Global South but not relevant to our study [x]…” 

“This area has been studied in the Global South [x]…” 

“…studied extensively in the Global South but not relevant to our study [x]…” 

Citations such as these can reinforce a lack of visibility of works produced in the Global South, and perpetuate engagement with only Western-centric scholarship. 

Comments about research that you have not engaged with may suggest that while a search returned the result, you did not spend time to understand its contribution.

If the work is relevant and you have engaged with it such that is shapes the outcome of your study, then it is worthy of citing the work.

Throwaway Cite:

These are very common and typically have numerous citations tied to a single concept making it difficult to know what the actual contribution is.

“The field has previously studied rainbows (x, y, z, g, h, i]…”

If it is not important to the outcomes of your study, don’t cite it.

If you are doing a systematic review, then there are other ways of reporting this data.

Separate out which studies are important and communicate what contribution the study is making.

“The study by Rainer, Hoof, and Horn [x] investigated the emotional impact of rainbows on child patients…, which was confirmed by Fetlock & Pastern [y], and Stifle & Chestnut [z]…yet refuted by Mane et al. in three separate studies [g,h,i].”

No Cite:

This is an omission of related work, intentional or unintentional.

“No studies exist that have examined whether unicorns have contributed substantially to escalating stock prices.”

The author is held responsible whether an omission was intentional or unintentional.

When possible, correct the omission, but engage with the work to fully understand what impact it may have on your study.

When omitting works intentionally, its best to spell this out in your methods so that it is accountable and reproducible.

“Our search criteria was performed within a limited number of journals in this field and does not represent an exhaustive search on the topic of unicorns performing unregulated activities as board members within high-growth companies.”

Kumar and Karusala (2021) also expand upon citation behaviors and provide examples highlighting injustices that lead to marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence in the form of testimonial and hermeneutical injustices. See Kumar & Karusala (2021) for their interpretation of citational justice and how they corrected injustices within their own work.

Engaging with References as an Author/Creator

These steps are adapted for creators or authors from Dworkin, Zurn, Bassett (2020), as they provide a 6 point roadmap for engaging with your references. See their article for roadmaps of other roles in scholarly production.

  1. Does your reference list have balance with regards to representing your field across gender, (we might also include culture, language, race or other attributes that are missing from your field)?
  2. Education yourself on the contributions of marginalized scientists that are relevant to your study.
  3. Gather information about biases in the form of distributions within your field, such as gender, race, or language.
  4. Determine whether you aim to reinforce that distribution, or proactively cite marginalized scientists whose contributions are meaningful to your study.
  5. Append a citation diversity statement to your study, (usually after initial review). This holds you accountable for the citations, makes bias visible to a global audience, and provides a framework for others to model their actions.
  6. Address how ideas from women and/or marginalized communities shape your ideas at the formulation stage of your study. Is the work of women and/or marginalized scientists central to your work?

Example Citation Diversity Statement

Citation Diversity Statements:

Citation diversity statements are a recent development. They can be undertaken independently by authors or have seen a rise as publication criteria in certain journals. Citation diversity statements are usually included above the Reference section of a work and act as a statement of fact, as well as a reflective tool. They are used by authors to consider their own bias and/or quantify the equitability of their reference lists (Zurn, Bassett, and Rust, 2020). There are qualitative and quantitative methods for making such statements proposed by Dworkin, Zurn, and Basset (2020b) and Zurn, Bassett, and Rust (2020). Here are a few samples of statements for you to adapt to your own needs:

1) No statement: Authors have the option to not include a citation diversity statement.

2) An abbreviated statement:

Citation Diversity StatementRecent work in several fields of science has identified a bias in citation practices such that papers from women and other minority scholars are undercited relative to the number of papers in the field. [x], [y], [z]. We recognize this bias and have worked diligently to ensure that we are referencing appropriate papers with fair gender and racial author inclusion.

3) A full statement with a quantitative assessment:

The following is taken from Rowson et al., (2021) who adapted it from Dworkin, Zurn, and Basset (2020b) and Zurn, Bassett, and Rust (2020).

Citation Diversity Statement: Recent work in several fields of science has identified a bias in citation practices such that papers from women and other minority scholars are undercited relative to the number of papers in the field. [citations] Here, we sought to proactively consider choosing references that reflect the diversity of the field in thought, form of contribution, gender, race, ethnicity, and other factors. First, we obtained the predicted gender of the first and last author of each reference by using databases that store the probability of a first name being carried by a woman. [citations] By this measure (and excluding self-citations to the first and last authors of our current paper), our references contain 31% woman (first)/woman (last), 31% man/woman, 19% woman/man, and 19% man/man. This method is limited in that a) names, pronouns, and social media profiles used to construct the databases may not, in every case, be indicative of gender identity and b) it cannot account for intersex, non-binary, or transgender people. Second, we obtained predicted racial/ethnic category of the first and last author of each reference by databases that store the probability of a first and last name being carried by an author of color. [citations] By this measure (and excluding self-citations), our references contain 2% author of color (first)/author of color(last), 9% white author/ author of color, 20% author of color/white author, and 69% white author/white author. This method is limited in that (a) names and Florida voter data used to make the predictions may not be indicative of racial/ethnic identity, and (b) it cannot account for Indigenous and mixed-race authors, or those who may face differential biases due to the ambiguous racialization or ethnicization of their names. We look forward to future work that could help us to better understand how to support equitable practices in science.

Further Reading

Included here are articles and resources to help you further your thinking and understanding of citation diversity and citational justice.

Citation diversity statement:  Recent work in several fields of science has identified a bias in citation practices such that papers from women and other minority scholars are undercited relative to the number of papers in the field (Dworkin, Zurn, & Bassett, 2020; Kumar & Karusala, 2021). We recognize this bias and have worked diligently to ensure that our references and further reading list includes appropriate papers with fair gender and racial author inclusion.

Dworkin, J. D., Linn, K. A., Teich, E. G., Zurn, P., Shinohara, R. T., & Bassett, D. S. (2020). The extent and drivers of gender imbalance in neuroscience reference lists. Nature Neuroscience, 23(8), 918–926.

Dworkin, J., Zurn, P., & Bassett, D. S. (2020). (In)citing Action to Realize an Equitable Future. Neuron, 106(6), 890–894. 

Kozlowski, D., Larivière, V., Sugimoto, C. R., & Monroe-White, T. (2022). Intersectional inequalities in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(2), e2113067119.

Kumar, N., & Karusala, N. (2021). Braving Citational Justice in Human-Computer Interaction. Extended Abstracts of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1–9.

Kwon, D. (2022). The rise of citational justice: how scholars are making references fairer. Nature, 603(7902), 568–571.

Mott, C., & Cockayne, D. (2017). Citation matters: mobilizing the politics of citation toward a practice of ‘conscientious engagement.’ Gender, Place & Culture, 24(7), 954–973.

Ray, K. S., Zurn, P., Dworkin, J. D., Bassett, D. S., & Resnik, D. B. (2022). Citation bias, diversity, and ethics. Accountability in Research, 0(0), 1–15.

Rowson, B., Duma, S. M., King, M. R., Efimov, I., Saterbak, A., & Chesler, N. C. (2021). Citation Diversity Statement in BMES Journals. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 49(3), 947–949.

Zurn, P., Bassett, D. S., & Rust, N. C. (2020). The Citation Diversity Statement: A Practice of Transparency, A Way of Life. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24(9), 669–672.