Andy Guess of Inside Higher Ed writes up a recent study that seeks to quantify errors in citations in scholarly papers. The results are more than a bit disturbing:
As it turns out, scholars have already done some work quantifying problem citations, divided into two categories, "incorrect references" and "quotation errors." The authors of the paper, J. Scott Armstrong of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and Malcolm Wright of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia, Adelaide, write of the former type, "This problem has been extensively studied in the health literature … 31 percent of the references in public health journals contained errors, and three percent of these were so severe that the referenced material could not be located."
More serious than such botched references are articles that incorrectly quote a cited paper or, as the authors put it, "misreport findings." For example, in the same study of health literature3, they write, "authors' descriptions of previous studies in public health journals differed from the original copy in 30 percent of references; half of these descriptions were unrelated to the quoting authors' contentions."