Investigating disagreement in the scientific literature

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Disagreement is essential to scientific progress but the extent of disagreement in science, its evolution over time, and the fields in which it happens remain poorly understood. Here we report the development of an approach based on cue phrases that can identify instances of disagreement in scientific articles. These instances are sentences in an article that cite other articles. Applying this approach to a collection of more than four million English-language articles published between 2000 and 2015 period, we determine the level of disagreement in five broad fields within the scientific literature (biomedical and health sciences; life and earth sciences; mathematics and computer science; physical sciences and engineering; and social sciences and humanities) and 817 meso-level fields. Overall, the level of disagreement is highest in the social sciences and humanities, and lowest in mathematics and computer science. However, there is considerable heterogeneity across the meso-level fields, revealing the importance of local disciplinary cultures and the epistemic characteristics of disagreement. Analysis at the level of individual articles reveals notable episodes of disagreement in science, and illustrates how methodological artifacts can confound analyses of scientific texts.

This content has been updated on January 6th, 2022 at 11 h 30 min.