How citation distortions create unfounded authority:
analysis of a citation network
Steven A Greenberg, associate professor of neurology
1 Children’s Hospital Informatics Program and Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA USA
BMJ Published 21 July 2009, doi:10.1136/bmj.b2680
Available online at: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/339/jul20_3/b2680
Objective To understand belief in a specific scientific claim by studying the pattern of citations among papers stating it.
Design A complete citation network was constructed from all PubMed indexed English literature papers addressing the belief that β amyloid, a protein accumulated in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, is produced by and injures skeletal muscle of patients with inclusion body myositis. Social network theory and graph theory were used to analyse this network.
Main outcome measures Citation bias, amplification, and invention, and their effects on determining authority.
Results The network contained 242 papers and 675 citations addressing the belief, with 220 553 citation paths supporting it. Unfounded authority was established by citation bias against papers that refuted or weakened the belief; amplification, the marked expansion of the belief system by papers presenting no data addressing it; and forms of invention such as the conversion of hypothesis into fact through citation alone. Extension of this network into text within grants funded by the National Institutes of Health and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed the same phenomena present and sometimes used to justify requests for funding.
Conclusion Citation is both an impartial scholarly method and a powerful form of social communication. Through distortions in its social use that include bias, amplification, and invention, citation can be used to generate information cascades resulting in unfounded authority of claims. Construction and analysis of a claim specific citation network may clarify the nature of a published belief system and expose distorted methods of social citation
What this study adds:
How scientific data evolve into entire published biomedical belief systems around specific claims can be studied through a device called a claim specific citation network and the use of social network theory
Inappropriate referencing in research
Has serious consequences, and the research community needs to act
“……During the preparation and writing of manuscripts, protocols, grant submissions, technical reports, and conference abstracts, authors must consider carefully the selection, completeness, and appropriateness of the articles referenced. Improper citation is not a benign practice; adequate and accurate citation is a necessity of scientifically and methodologically sound research.
Rather than treating citation errors in a particular journal article as isolated incidents, we must appreciate that such errors can be replicated in further articles and, therefore, cause considerable damage over time. Incorrect information can be promoted, alternative evidence ignored, and redundant research undertaken following inappropriate use of references, impairing scientific progress and affecting patient care….”
Files in this Data Supplement: Adobe PDF - gres611285.ww1.pdf
Supplementary Materials for: How Citation Distortions Create Unfounded Authority: Analysis of a Citation Network
Note-1: Statements regarding a “key” or “central” role of beta-amyloid in IBM pathogenesis
Note-3: Network properties of the claim-specific citation network
Note-4: Duplicate publication
Note-5: Specificity of antibodies used to claim the presence of beta-amyloid
Note-6: Data papers
Note-7: Lenses: the most influential papers and citations in the network
Note-8: Amplification: its definition, quantitation, and implications
Note-9: Authority emerges from bias and amplification
Note-10: Invention: conversion of hypothesis into fact by citation alone
Note-11: Back-door invention: claims systematically enter the belief system through a backdoor
Note-12: Title invention
Note-13: The claim-specific citation network extended from PubMed to NIH funded grants
Note-14: Self-serving citation and persuasive citation
Note-15: The loss of scientific implications of isolated data
Note-16: Authority of animal model papers and amplification using circularity
Note-17: Limitations of and alternatives for these analyses
Supplementary Table 1: Query results from PubMed
Supplementary Table 2: Papers with statements regarding amyloid or beta-amyloid
Supplementary Table 3: Papers, statements, and citations
Supplementary Table 4: Claim-specific citation table
Reporting and other biases in studies of Neurontin for migraine, psychiatric/bipolar disorders,
nociceptive pain, and neuropathic pain
Kay Dickersin, MA, PhD - August 10, 2008 http://dida.library.ucsf.edu/pdf/oxx18r10
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