The European Chemical Industry Council has provided funding to Maastricht University to start a research project on Research Integrity by exploring one of the most suspected contributors to Questionable Research Practices: Selective Citation.
It is generally accepted that scientific papers should give a balanced overview of the already existing literature on a topic of interest. Not citing papers that are in disagreement with the beliefs of the authors is known as Citation Bias. Misrepresentation of referenced paper to better fit with the beliefs of the authors is called Citation Distortion. This project will focus on both types of citation bias, which are suspected to be one of the main drivers of skewed knowledge dissemination. The aim is to systematically collect reproducible data on selected topics to assess the extent of selective citation bias that occurs in the process of science based decision-making.
Researchers from Maastricht University will perform multiple social network citation analyses in which each step in the ‘chain of knowledge and dissemination’ will be investigated ranging from mechanistic studies to human epidemiologic studies to reviews to policy recommendations. These will be applied to three topics that describe an association between an exposure and a health risk: chlorinated swimming water vs. childhood asthma, butadiene exposure vs. childhood leukemia and mould exposure vs. childhood asthma. Within each of these topics the researchers will identify and classify the publications, their citations and construct the citation network. The citation network will be statistically analyzed using graph theory to identify the different types of citation bias.
In a follow-up project, two more topics will be analyzed, and aggregate analyses will be performed to identify consistent patterns and the main sources of selective citation which may or may not be based on concepts such as it’s positive, neutral or critical belief system, level of authority, affiliation and journal impact. The project will be concluded with the development of a guideline, the dissemination of the results to international academic and industrial platforms.
Sound science: selective citation in science based decision-making, presented at the 16th Cefic-LRI Workshop 2014