Background: Knowledge development depends on an unbiased representation of the available evidence. Selective citation may distort this representation. Recently, some controversy emerged regarding the possible impact of swimming on childhood asthma, raising the question about the role of selective citation in this field. Our objective was to assess the occurrence and determinants of selective citation in scientific publications on the relationship between swimming in chlorinated pools and childhood asthma.
Methods: We identified scientific journal articles on this relationship via a systematic literature search. The following factors were taken into account: study outcome (authors' conclusion, data-based conclusion), other content-related article characteristics (article type, sample size, research quality, specificity), content-unrelated article characteristics (language, publication title, funding source, number of authors, number of affiliations, number of references, journal impact factor), author characteristics (gender, country, affiliation), and citation characteristics (time to citation, authority, self-citation). To assess the impact of these factors on citation, we performed a series of univariate and adjusted random-effects logistic regressions, with potential citation path as unit of analysis.
Results: Thirty-six articles were identified in this network, consisting of 570 potential citation paths of which 191 (34%) were realized. There was strong evidence that articles with at least one author in common, cited each other more often than articles that had no common authors (odds ratio (OR) 5.2, 95% confidence interval (CI) 3.1-8.8). Similarly, the chance of being cited was higher for articles that were empirical rather than narrative (OR 4.2, CI 2.6-6.7), that reported a large sample size (OR 5.8, CI 2.9-11.6), and that were written by authors with a high authority within the network (OR 4.1, CI 2.1-8.0). Further, there was some evidence for citation bias: articles that confirmed the relation between swimming and asthma were cited more often (OR 1.8, CI 1.1-2.9), but this finding was not robust.
Conclusions: There is clear evidence of selective citation in this research field, but the evidence for citation bias is not very strong.