This fascinating paper by Greenberg discusses the pattern of citations among papers stating belief in a particular scientific phenomenon. He chose as his model the role of β-amyloid protein which is well known for its role Alzheimer’s disease but is also claimed to be produced and injure skeletal muscle fibres in inclusion body myositis.
Greenberg looked at 242 papers and 675 citations with looked at this with a devise called social network theory and graph theory.
Of the 10 authoritative papers which provided experimental evidence supporting the concept of inclusion body myositis muscle fibres, four provided experimental data and were from the same laboratory. Six papers refuted the claim. The 4 papers supporting the claim received 94% of the subsequent citations and the refuters 6 %. Some other papers had data, which failed to show the phenomenon, but claimed this supported the claim.
I am aware of this because a widespread claim that it is possible to heat water for domestic use using a compost heap traces to one paper, with a huge compost heap which worked briefly.
Greenberg 2009 How citation distortion create unfounded authority: analysis of a citation network. BMJ vol 339 pp 210-213
- Martin Eastwood