Web Performance-Indicator Abuse and Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2006 12:00:32 +0100

An interesting comment about self-citation abuse is appended below from
the sigmetrics list. http://listserv.utk.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A0=sigmetrics
It is no doubt valid about a number of routine biasses (already in place
since before the Internet).

I would repeat only that a worldwide Open Access database, containing
all citations to and from an article, author, and journal (not just the
Thompson ISI subset) will make it possible to calculate baselines for
self-citation, by field or subfield, and to compare and rank individual
papers, authors and journals relative to their respective ("endogamy/
exogamy") baselines.

Egregious cases can thereby be detected and exposed (named-and-shamed). It
seems to me that this will introduce a form of openness and answerability
that the more partial/proprietary citation counts until now did not
enable, and that it will help to expose and minimize biasses. (Similarly,
full-text overlap indices of various kinds will be derivable to compare
with norms and baselines for the detection and monitoring of
plagiarism/poaching as well as legitimate lineage.)

Open Access cannot but have a profound effect on these variables and

A conjecture: For every new means of abuse that the Web breeds (download
agents to pad download counts; padded link counts, etc.), it will soon
thereafter breed a new means of countering that same abuse (rather like
the endless cartoon series of escalating spy- vs-spy ploys in Mad Magazine
a few decades ago).

Another conjecture: The vast majority of the abuses will be at the level
of the mean or meaner: The highest quality authors and papers will not
be the ones resorting to such ploys. (Hence, in a sense, their detection
and exposure is important mainly for local performance-evaluation
purposes, rather than to safeguard general research progress.)

Stevan Harnad

PS As a notorious self-citer myself, I would like to add, in defense
of the practise in some conditions, that it is not necessarily done
for citation impact inflation -- especially as author self-citations are
the easiest and most natural ones to subtract off in correcting citation
counts. It can also be a legitimate way of trying to draw attention to
one's own neglected prior work. (I'm not sure it works, though...)

On 10-Jul-06, at 5:47 AM, David Watkins wrote:

> Journal Self-Citation etc....
> Academics are human beings; science is a social activity.
> There does not need to be overt pressure to increase rates of self citation
> over a hypothetical 'natural' level. Authors know that editors like
> to see their journal 'used', and it is natural that any one paper will
> build on similar work that is published in similar journals. Given an a
> choice to cite work, even by the same author(s), in journal A or
> journal B in the literature survey, which very often happens, a sensible
> new author will cite the work in jA if s/he is submitting there, or
> vice versa.
> The situation is compounded by the refereeing system. What assiduous author
> does not try to identify potential referees - often members of the
> target journal's Editorial Board - and ensure their work is cited, even if
> it is actually marginal? This is a habit instilled at doctoral level: "for
> goodness sake cite the intended external's work, and do so in a
> favourable light....!"
> Even it this attempt to subvert the system fails, who has not experienced
> the comment from an 'anonymous' referee, that the work of Dr X is
> under-acknowledged, with copious examples, when it is clear to all
> that Dr X is the refereee...? S/he is probably on the Editorial Board...so
> yet more journal self-citations are added during the revison process.
> Probably, since some authors 'work their way down' a ranked list of
> journals until they get acceptance, initial decisions on who and
> what to cite therefore also generate an enhanced 'Mathew Effect' which is
> imprinted in the paper even when it is published lower down the pecking
> order - although I've also known authors add and subtract citations during
> this process (for the reasons above) without altering the paper itself
> in any substantive way.
> Not sure Open Access (a good idea suis generis) will impact this in
> any way. But almost certainly new biases will be introduced. If the
> rules of the game change, players respond (Vide UK RAE etc.....)
> David Watkins
> ************************************************
> Professor David Watkins
> Postgraduate Research Centre
> Southampton Business School
> Southampton Solent University
> East Park Terrace
> Southampton SO14 0RH
> David.Watkins_at_solent.ac.uk
> 023 80 319610 (Tel)
> +44 23 80 31 96 10 (Tel)
> 02380 33 26 27 (fax)
> +44 23 80 33 26 27 (fax)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Date: Sat, 8 Jul 2006 18:01:59 +0100
> From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
> Subject: Self-Citation Bias and Open Access
> Date: Fri, 7 Jul 2006 18:15:44 +0100 (BST)
> From: [journalist, identity deleted]
>> I am a journalist at [deleted]... investigating the phenomenon of
>> [journal self-citation bias]
>> I wonder if you could let me know... whether
>> any journals... have rules that state that the author of a
>> paper it publishes must cite other papers published in its journal.
> I have heard rumours, several times now, that some journals have a
> policy of encouraging or even requiring their authors to cite papers
> in the same journal, in order to raise the journal's citation
> impact. I
> do not have evidence of this, though others might. (I am branching the
> query to the sigmetrics list.)
>> Also, do you know of any academics who...
>> have agreed to cite colleagues if they cite him/her?
> That's even harder to track down, but soon it will be possible to
> track
> both: There will be "endogamy/exogamy" indices for articles,
> authors and
> journals, reflecting the degree to which their citation impact comes
> from (1) self-citations, (2) citations to and from the same circle
> of authors or co-authors, (3) citations to and from the same journal,
> or small closed circle of journals, and (4) how this compares with the
> pattern for other comparable authors, papers and journals, equated as
> much as possible for subject matter and citation level.
> Such studies are already possible, in principle, using the ISI
> citations
> database, but the coverage there is not total (it only covers about
> the top
> quarter of the journals published: 8000/24000). Once the research
> institutions and funders mandate that their research journal article
> output must be made openly accessible free for all on the web, it will
> be possible to do exhaustive and rigorous analyses for (1)-(4) and
> much
> more:
> Shadbolt, N., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2006) The Open
> Research Web: A Preview of the Optimal and the Inevitable, in
> Jacobs,
> N., Eds. Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic
> Aspects,
> chapter 21. Chandos.
> http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/12369/
> Practices that are openly detectable are also name-and-shame-able.
> Hence
> Open
> Access is both the best way to monitor as well as to discourage
> dubious
> ones.
> Open Access will maximize legitimate research impact and its
> measurement,
> while
> minimizing abuses.
> Stevan Harnad
>> Excerpts from the Wall Street Journal
>> Science Journals Artfully Try To Boost Their Rankings
>> By SHARON BEGLEY June 5, 2006; Page B1
>> John B. West... Distinguished Professor of Medicine and
>> Physiology at
> the
>> University of California, San Diego ...
>> submitted a paper on the design of the human lung to the American
>> Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. [A]n editor
>> emailed
> him
>> that the paper was basically fine. There was just one thing: Dr. West
>> should cite more studies that had appeared in the respiratory
>> journal.
>> ...Scientists and editors say scientific
>> journals increasingly are manipulating rankings -- called "impact
>> factors" -- that are based on how often papers they publish are
>> cited by
>> other researchers.
>> ...Impact factors are calculated annually for some 5,900 science
>> journals
>> by Thomson Scientific, part of the Thomson
>> <http://online.wsj.com/quotes/main.html?type=djn&symbol=tms>
>> Corp., of
>> Stamford, Conn. Numbers less than 2 are considered low. Top journals,
>> such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, score in the
>> double digits. Researchers and editors say manipulating the score is
>> more common among smaller, newer journals, which struggle for
>> visibility
>> against more established rivals.
>> ...Impact factors matter to publishers' bottom lines because
>> librarians
>> rely on them to make purchasing decisions...
>> ...Self-citation can go too far. In 2005, Thomson Scientific
>> dropped the
>> World Journal of Gastroenterology from its rankings because 85% of
>> the
>> citations it published were to its own papers and because few other
>> journals cited it....
>> Journals can limit citations to papers published by competitors,
>> keeping
>> the rivals' impact factors down...
>> Journals' "questionable" steps to raise their impact factors
>> "affect the
>> public," Ms. Liebert says. "Ultimately, funding is allocated to
>> scientists and topics perceived to be of the greatest importance. If
>> impact factor is being manipulated, then scientists and studies that
>> seem important will be funded perhaps at the expense of those that
>> seem
>> less important."
Received on Mon Jul 10 2006 - 12:20:13 BST

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