Self-correction of science: a comparative study of negative citations and post-publication peer review

Abstract:  This study investigates whether negative citations in articles and comments posted on post-publication peer review platforms are both equally contributing to the correction of science. These 2 types of written evidence of disputes are compared by analyzing their occurrence in relation to articles that have already been retracted or corrected. We identi-fied retracted or corrected articles in a corpus of 72,069 articles coming from the Engineer-ing field, from 3 journals (Science, Tumor Biology, Cancer Research) and from 3 authors with many retractions to their credit (Sarkar, Schön, Voinnet). We used Scite to retrieve contradicting citations and PubPeer to retrieve the number of comments for each article, and then we considered them as traces left by scientists to contest published results. Our study shows that contradicting citations are very uncommon and that retracted or corrected articles are not more contradicted in scholarly articles than those that are neither retracted nor corrected but they do generate more comments on Pubpeer, presumably because of the possibility for contributors to remain anonymous. Moreover, post-publication peer review platforms, although external to the scientific publication process contribute more to the correction of science than negative citations. Consequently, post-publication peer review venues, and more specifically the comments found on it, although not contributing to the scientific literature, are a mechanism for correcting science. Lastly, we introduced the idea of strengthening the role of contradicting citations to rehabilitate the clear expression of judgment in scientific papers.