What’s your reference question? Search Odyssey: 2009

October 13, 2009 at 4:04 pm

An academic research support specialist at Mayo Clinic Florida was working on a journal manuscript submission which included the following reference in the bibliography: Willis RA. The spread of tumours in the human body. New York: Butterworths & Co. 1975; 216.  Attempting to verify the reference before submission, the specialist consulted Amazon.com, Google Scholar and “surfs the internet” where two editions were discovered, 1952 and 1973, but nothing for 1975.  Suspecting something was amiss, the specialist asked the library for assistance.

I started with our own online catalog (http://mayo.iii.com/) and searched by the author. Two entries matched title and author but neither had a copyright of 1975.


(I wondered why we didn’t have the 1973 edition?)

Moving from our local catalog to FirstSearch and WorldCat from OCLC, 12 different entries for this particular book turned up, but none was for an edition published in 1975 by Butterworths & Co in New York.  This screenshot shows the 1934, 1952 and 1973 editions.


Not quite ready to concede that a 1975 edition didn’t exist —most of the information seemed correct—title, author, part of the publisher — I decided to check the Web of Science cited reference search to see if anyone had cited the 1975 edition.


Sure enough, the fourth entry revealed that 7 papers had cited p. 216 of the 1975 edition.


In this display 4 out of the 7 entries are shown based on our subscribed access from 1993:


I accessed the full text of the first entry and checked the bibliography:

60 Willis RA. The spread of tumours in the human body. New York: Butterworth and Company, 1975: 216-7. /

So, what does this mean?  An incorrect citation was created, and from there it snowballed to other citation errors in the medical literature.  When we told our author that we could find no evidence of a 1975 edition, he withdrew the reference from his bibliography.

Ann Farrell, Medical Librarian, Winn Dixie Medical Library, Mayo Clinic Florida

Entry filed under: What's Your Reference Question?. Tags: , , , , .

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