Investigating Disagreement in the Scientific Literature

07/30/2021
by   Wout S. Lamers, et al.
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Disagreement is essential to scientific progress. However, the extent of disagreement in science, its evolution over time, and the fields in which it happens, remains poorly understood. Leveraging a massive collection of English-language scientific texts, we develop a cue-phrase based approach to identify instances of disagreement citations across more than four million scientific articles. Using this method, we construct an indicator of disagreement across scientific fields over the 2000-2015 period. In contrast with black-box text classification methods, our framework is transparent and easily interpretable. We reveal a disciplinary spectrum of disagreement, with higher disagreement in the social sciences and lower disagreement in physics and mathematics. However, detailed disciplinary analysis demonstrates heterogeneity across sub-fields, revealing the importance of local disciplinary cultures and epistemic characteristics of disagreement. Paper-level analysis reveals notable episodes of disagreement in science, and illustrates how methodological artifacts can confound analyses of scientific texts. These findings contribute to a broader understanding of disagreement and establish a foundation for future research to understanding key processes underlying scientific progress.

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