Selective citation in scientific literature on the human health effects of bisphenol A

Research Integrity and Peer Review 4 (1) (2019)
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Abstract

IntroductionBisphenol A is highly debated and studied in relation to a variety of health outcomes. This large variation in the literature makes BPA a topic that is prone to selective use of literature, in order to underpin one’s own findings and opinion. Over time, selective use of literature, by means of citations, can lead to a skewed knowledge development and a biased scientific consensus. In this study, we assess which factors drive citation and whether this results in the overrepresentation of harmful health effects of BPA.MethodsA citation network analysis was performed to test various determinants of citation. A systematic search identified all relevant publications on the human health effect of BPA. Data were extracted on potential determinants of selective citation, such as study outcome, study design, sample size, journal impact factor, authority of the author, self-citation, and funding source. We applied random effect logistic regression to assess whether these determinants influence the likelihood of citation.ResultsOne hundred sixty-nine publications on BPA were identified, with 12,432 potential citation pathways of which 808 citations occurred. The network consisted of 63 cross-sectional studies, 34 cohort studies, 29 case-control studies, 35 narrative reviews, and 8 systematic reviews. Positive studies have a 1.5 times greater chance of being cited compared to negative studies. Additionally, the authority of the author and self-citation are consistently found to be positively associated with the likelihood of being cited. Overall, the network seems to be highly influenced by two highly cited publications, whereas 60 out of 169 publications received no citations.ConclusionIn the literature on BPA, citation is mostly driven by positive study outcome and author-related factors, such as high authority within the network. Interpreting the impact of these factors and the big influence of a few highly cited publications, it can be questioned to which extent the knowledge development in human literature on BPA is actually evidence-based.

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Lex M. Bouter
VU University Amsterdam

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