Information cascades in scientific practice

post by RichardKennaway · 2009-07-29T12:08:31.135Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 6 comments

Here's an interesting recent paper in the British Medical Journal: "How citation distortions create unfounded authority: analysis of a citation network". (I don't know if this is freely accessible, but the abstract should be.)

From the paper:

"Objective To understand belief in a specific scientific claim by studying the pattern of citations among papers stating it."

"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."

It also includes a list of specific ways in which citations were found to amplify or invent evidence.

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comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-08-06T00:48:12.433Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People might also find it helpful to see the...

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.

comment by Johnicholas · 2009-07-29T14:53:35.341Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yup, freely available and interesting.

If I understand Robin Hanson's philosophies and values correctly, I believe he might suggest that these metanalyses are a public good, and should be subsidized. Given that most of this research is already publicly funded, this might simply be a shift in funding priorities for institutions like NIH.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-08-06T00:50:28.545Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Notify Guinness: Most citations in a single sentence:

These 766 papers (see web extra table 1) were searched for statements addressing the belief that these molecules are abnormally and specifically present in muscle fibres of patients with inclusion body myositis among many other muscle diseases, identifying 302 papers1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 214 215 216 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 244 245 246 247 248 249 250 251 252 253 254 255 256 257 258 259 260 261 262 263 264 265 266 267 268 269 270 271 272 273 274 275 276 277 278 279 280 281 282 283 284 285 286 287 288 289 290 291 292 293 294 295 296 297 298 299 300 301 302 addressing the broad category of "amyloid" and inclusion body myositis of which 242 papers discussed these specific molecules (see web extra table 2).

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-07-29T20:30:36.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very interesting!! Isn't it similar to people saying something and then citing some reference as evidence, when, in reality, the evidence is far from the people's "distorted views".

An example:- In Indian Philosophy, "Maya" is often translated as "illusion", and we see people quoting Maya in in popular cultures in India, but the actual psychological, epistemological, and ontological meaning is defined in "Vendanta", which people rarely cite as an "evidence" for saying what they say.

Replies from: anonym
comment by anonym · 2009-07-30T03:45:42.742Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is Vedanta, not Vendanta.

Replies from: ajayjetti
comment by ajayjetti · 2009-07-30T14:34:57.968Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oops!! thanks for correcting ( good i din write Vendetta!!)