In science “there is no bad publicity”: Papers criticized in technical comments have high scientific impact

Technical comments are special types of scientific publications whose aim is to correct or criticize previously published papers. Often, comments are negatively perceived by the authors of the criticized articles because believed to make the commented papers less worthy or trusty to the eyes of the scientific community.

Thus, there is a tendency to think that criticized papers are predestined to have low scientific impact. We show here that such belief is not supported by empirical evidence. We consider thirteen major publication outlets in science and perform a large-scale analysis of the citation patterns of criticized publications.

We find that commented papers have not only average citation rates much higher than those of non commented articles, but also unexpectedly over-populate the set of the most cited publications within a journal. Since comments are published soon after criticized papers, comments can be viewed as early indicators of the future impact of criticized papers.

Our results represent one the most clear observations of the popular wisdom of “any publicity is good publicity”, according to which success might follow from negative criticisms, but for which there have been very few empirical validations so far.

Our results go also beyond, touching core topics of research in philosophy of science, because they emphasize the fundamental importance of scientific disputes for the production and dissemination of knowledge.