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Comments and Corrigenda in Scientific Literature

How self-correcting is the written record of scientific and engineering endeavors?

Joseph Grcar


The Scopus database classifies publications by document type, source type and subject area. Document types include article (ar), conference paper (cp), editorial (ed), erratum (er), letter (le), note (no), review (re) and short survey (sh). Source types include book (b), journal (j), book series (k) and conference proceedings (p).

In the graphs that depict the quantity of publications, “journal articles” are document type (ar) and source type (j). “Other journal material” are document type (ed, le, no, re, sh) and source type (j). “Articles in collections” are any document type and source type (b, k, p), as well as document type (cp) and source type (j); the latter criterion finds conference papers published in special or supplementary issues of journals. These three groups comprise 96 percent of all publications in the database for 1990–2010. The balance consists of some technical reports and some articles in trade publications.

In the graphs that depict quantities of corrections, “corrigenda and errata” are document type (er), which as indexed by Scopus also includes the small number of retractions. “Comments and replies” are documents of any type and source whose title contains “comment* on” or “reply to”; the asterisk matches any other full word such as “comments” or “commentary.” “Other refutations” are somewhat difficult to identify; for present purposes they are documents of any type and source whose title, abstract or keywords contain “contradict(s),” “counterexample to,” “disproves(s),” “inconsistent,” “invalidate(s),” or “refute(s).” The overlap among these three groups is 0.2 percent. Source type (j) contains 97 percent of these corrective documents; hence, the percentages are taken with respect to “journal articles” as previously defined.

Scopus also classifies publications into 27 overlapping subject areas. Two of these, mathematics and physics, have been separated in the graphs from computer science and from engineering, respectively, to more faithfully represent the underlying fields.

The Scopus database was reoriented to compete with the more established Web of Science database in the 1990s. (The famous citation impact factors are drawn from the latter database.) The expanded coverage of Scopus may account for the sharp increase in journal articles in 1996. Similarly, a failure to fully classify the larger volume of documents may account for the temporary decrease in corrigenda beginning in the same year.


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