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Negative Science

A stack of published journals

The number of times academic articles are cited by subsequent publications is among the measures used to assess scholarly standing. But not all citations are positive ones, and a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that as many as one in 50 citations in a top immunology journal were critical in nature.

Negative citations may point out limitations, inconsistencies, or flaws in previous work. The study found that these negative citations tended to originate from scholars who were close to the authors of the original articles in academic discipline — but at least 150 miles away geographically.

The research, by authors at Georgia Tech, the University of Toronto, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, may be the first to systematically quantify and examine negative citations. “Given that we rely so heavily on these citation metrics as measures of quality, it’s important to note that the intent of these citations isn’t homogeneous,” said Alexander Oettl, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. 

— John Toon

Alexander Oettl

Alexander Oettl is an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business.

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