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Better Than No Citation?

Only a small percentage of paper citations criticize the original paper, and the papers that do attract such criticism are highly cited papers, according to an analysis appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A trio of researchers led by Georgia Tech's Alexander Oettl sifted through more than 760,000 citations that referenced around 150,000 papers from nearly 16,000 articles appearing the Journal of Immunology between 1998 and 2007.

Out of the 762,355 citations they identified, the researchers classified 18,304 of them, or about 2.4 percent, as negative. They regarded citations as negative if they fell in the context of phrases like "'The data therefore contrast with reports that…' or 'This conclusion appeared inconsistent with … ,'" Nature News notes.

These 762,355 citations, they add, referred to 146,891 unique papers and of those papers, 10,405 or about 7.1 percent received at least one negative citation.

Oettl and his team note that the papers that are criticized tended to receive more citations overall, suggesting that the criticism could be due to more researchers paying attention to the paper and its potentially novel science. They also found that negative citations tended to come from scientists who were close in discipline and social distance to the cited researchers, but far geographically, indicating a social cost to making a negative citation.

Technical University of Chemnitz in Germany's Michael Schreiber tells Nature News that this paper's findings are what he'd expect based on informal estimates, though he says the trio's definition of what constitutes a negative citation may be too broad.