Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Just how self-correcting is science?

In an extremely timely article in the new issue of American Scientist, Joseph Grcar looks at what fraction of publications in various disciplines are basically corrective (that is, comments, corrigenda,  corrections, retractions, or refutations).  He finds in the sciences in general the correction rate is about 1-1.5% of publications.  This is probably a bit of an underestimate, in my view, since there are new works published that are essentially soft refutations that may not be detected by the methods used here.  Likewise, some fraction of the body of published work (constituting the denominator of that fraction) has no impact (in the sense of never being cited).  Still, that's an interesting number to see. 

1 comment:

JH said...

Haven't read the American Scientist article yet, but my idea of a self-correcting science was always that given enough time, wrong ideas are just phased out (either disproven, or just ignored after a while etc.). This for me doesn't necessarily have anything to do with corrections in scientific publications.

But from what I've read about history of science, this automatic self-correction happens on a timescale closer to decades rather than months or years. For a scientist working in a given field, maybe that's not fast enough :) But "science" in the end does not care about human time scales.