The number of scientific Stack Exchange sites is increasing steadily currently we have for the natural sciences: Statistical Analysis, Math, Theoretical Computer Science, Physics, Skeptics, Astronomy, Theoretical Physics, Computational Science, Biology and Cognitive Sciences.

One feature that would be useful to all of these sites would be making it easier to cite scientific literature.

A proper citation of a scientific paper to support your answer would look roughly like this

According to Nikolova et al.1 DNA can form transient Hogsteen base pairs ...


DNA can form transient Hogsteen base pairs (Nikolova et al. 2011) ...

All citations would be listed at the end of the post and if available the citation in the text itself as well as the full citation in the list would be linked to an online source of the reference, preferably via DOI to avoid link-rot.

Of course it is already possible to achieve this effect manually, but it is a lot of work to properly format the citation in markdown. It would be very nice if the citation could be generated automatically from a BibTeX or RIS file, those are usually available directly on the online version of the scientific article, or can be easily exported from a citation management software.

Another way to get the bibliographic data for papers form the life sciences would be the Pubmed database.

My idea is that this would not only make it easier to add proper looking citations, making the sites look more professional as a whole. but that it would also increase the expectation in regards to citations. It should encourage users to back up their claims with primary literature and improve the quality of the answers.

Ideally this would work by just copying a link from the journal homepage or a database like Pubmed, and the citation data would be automatically fetched and inserted into the post. Some citation software like Zotero is already able to do that, so this might be possible by integrating an existing library.

An additional idea would be to use the citation data for the "Linked" or "Related" block in the sidebar. Posts that cite the same sources (determined e.g. by comparison of the DOIs) are usually about closely related topics, and making it easier to find them might be very useful in some cases.

[1] Nikolova et al., Transient Hoogsteen base pairs in canonical duplex DNA, Nature 470, 498-502 (2011)

  • 4
    I support this; I would also support a watered-down version of it (sans the bibliographic stuff) on Stack Overflow, but I guess that would be a separate feature request
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 18, 2011 at 20:48
  • If you could make a system where citing academic sources wasn't a pain in the butt you'd be a billionaire, especially if you could do it in a little text web editor instead of a dedicated software suite like EndNote. I don't see a simple way to work it in.
    – Zelda
    Commented Dec 24, 2011 at 2:57
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    ... the Science of Skeptics? Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 12:44
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    @StevenJeuris Skeptics is not explicitly a science site, but a lot of questions on it are about science. The site also requires references for every answer, so support for citations would be very useful there. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 12:48
  • I was being sarcastic. ;p It just looked strange in that list. ;p Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 12:49
  • As I'm now part of Cog Sci.SE I'm seeing the importance of this, but still can't think of a great solution to add to our current markdown set up...
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 14:14
  • +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1... citation is the biggest turnoff of proper referencing. Making it easy gets people to give more references, which is good.
    – Armatus
    Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 22:59
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4 Answers 4


We've tossed this up for discussion internally at least twice now (if you count variations on this for sites that've requested some form of quick-linking for heavily-referenced sources, then... much more than twice). Both times, the idea has failed to gain traction. The primary arguments against it are:

  1. It would be a considerable amount of effort to do in a way that would be significantly better than the manual workarounds currently in use.

  2. It would be another MathJax-style deviation from normal Markdown, increasing the learning curve for new users and causing confusion for experienced folks moving between sites and systems.

  3. There's no consensus within the network on what citations should even look like, much less which sources should be supported and what sorts of fallbacks should be put into place.

The closest existing feature to this would probably be the support for autolinking MTG cards on Board & Card Games. It's worth noting that this has not been a resounding success, and in fact is intentionally hobbled due to the licensing requirements imposed by the source of the link data; there's no reason to suspect this wouldn't be an issue with citations also.

Therefore, on sites where this would be beneficial, I recommend following the example of LEGOR Answers, whose members built a userscript for the insertion of part drawings. While this is certainly less convenient than a built-in solution, it allows the behavior to be tailored to the specific needs of the community and updated or enhanced without delay. In theory, a sufficiently useful (and appropriately-licensed) script could be "baked in" to the site at some point, thus making the functionality available without the need to install scripts or extensions.

Related: Make it easier to link to documentation for common technologies

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    I understand that the team is up to the neck of requests, but this feature is extremely useful, which shown as the vote numbers of this question, this answer and the top answer.
    – Ooker
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 4:17

I'll sketch an example of how I think an initial version of this feature could work. For the areas I'm interested in, pretty much every journal is indexed in PubMed, this would cover the whole life sciences, biology, medicine and chemistry.

My idea would be to add a way to automatically generate a citation from a DOI or a Pubmed ID. Those two identifiers are readily available and can easily be copied from a Pubmed search result or the journal homepage.

Pubmed provides a webservice to query their database.

To get the Pubmed ID from a DOI, you can use the search and supply the DOI with [AID] directly behind to indicate that you only want to search the identifiers:


With the Pubmed ID you can query the full bibliographic information in various formats the following way:




There is also a gateway that provides the data in JSONP format that would be useable in a user script: http://entrezajax.appspot.com/developer.html

From this data a citation looking something like the following should be generated:

Schlappa, J. et al. Spin-orbital separation in the quasi-one-dimensional Mott insulator Sr2CuO3. Nature 485, 82–85 (2012).

For this example I used Zotero with the Nature citation style. Ideally the citation should be properly formatted and linked to its DOI, as already shown in the example in this question.

To create these citations a library like citeproc-js might be useful.

This would make it far faster and easier to cite scientific articles, encouraging users to back up their answers with primary literature, making posts that use the feature look more professional and by using the DOI safeguard those links against link-rot.

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    It's worth pointing out that not all publishers expose the DOI to non-subscribers. JSTOR.org for example has recently redesigned to hide citation information from those without journal access. I think this solution would need to have the ability to add the citation details and link manually, not only relying on identifiers like DOI or PubmedID Commented Jun 16, 2012 at 11:09

@Michaelpri has made a userscript specific for this:

Stack Exchange References

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    Ok, nice, but I'm not sure if the suggested-edits that we see in the review queue due to this will get accepted easily... evidence
    – rene
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 10:05
  • yeah it get rejected. I just thought that people hate to click the edit button to see the actual code behind.
    – Ooker
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 15:02
  • On sites where citations are common this can be appreciated I guess but as I said, you would need to get some support on a specific site meta first so the reviewers learn to approve that gibberish. I'm pretty confident that this will not fly network-wide.
    – rene
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 15:10
  • no I'm not intend to that. I just want to give the solution for anyone who comes here because they needs to have it.
    – Ooker
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 16:27

An interim step could be to use something like HEVEA. The editing would have to be done elsewhere with html pasted here. Below is the body of the html file generated from bibtex.tex. The result didn't work out as nicely as I had hoped with the styles removed. There is a citation link in there, but it doesn't reference correctly.

This is a citation of a very [1] important work.


[1] Author, etc. This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.

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