Wednesday, 30 August 2017

One way to boost your uni's ranking: Ask faculty to cite each other - Retraction Watch at Retraction Watch


Retraction Watch

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One way to boost your uni’s ranking: Ask faculty to cite each other

Readers who follow scientific publishing will know the term “citation stacking” — as a profile-boosting technique, we’ve seen journals ask authors to cite them, and individual scientists work together to cite each other, forming “citation cartels.” And now, we’ve seen a university do it.

A university in Malaysia has instructed its engineering faculty to cite at least three papers by their colleagues; the more citations a university accrues, the better its ranking in many international surveys. We obtained the original notice, dated August 3 and released by the University of Malaya, and translated it via One Hour Translation. Our English version says:

All Academic Staff

Faculty of Engineering


Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Confirmation for 2017

Please refer to the subject-matter stated above.

  1. As had been informed earlier, the
    KPI Confirmation for all University of Malaya staff has been opened and
    the final date for the KPI Confirmation is 9 August 2017.
  2. For the Academic Staff at the
    Faculty of Engineering, the First Appraisal Officer (PPP) has determined
    the KPI for each departmental staff (please refer to the KPI). Under
    Section 6, Faculty Specific Duties you are required to type:
(1) “Citation: To cite at least 3 relevant papers of colleagues in each of your publication”

  1. Other additional tasks are subject to the PPP of each PYD.
I would be pleased if you could take necessary action before 9 August 2017.
The notice is signed by Professor Ir. Dr. Noor Azuan Abu Osman,
Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. We contacted him to ask what
prompted the practice, and what penalties researchers will face if they
fail to cite three papers by their colleagues. We received a response
from a university spokesperson, who told us:

With reference to the issue of citations at the Faculty of Engineering, UM, it is common practice among academics at the Faculty concerned to cite the publications of academics
at the same Faculty or from other Faculties within the University
provided that the publications are relevant to the study conducted.

This is also practiced by academic staff in general at UM and other universities.

Academics are encouraged to acknowledge and cite fellow academics where Relevant.
(The original guidelines don’t appear to include the caveat that citations be related to the study.)

Of course, this isn’t the only technique universities use to boost their metrics. Recently, we ran a story in Science about institutions (including many in Western countries) who pay faculty for publications; a 2011 report in Science showed
that universities in Saudi Arabia were giving tens of thousands of
dollars to highly cited researchers to take a secondary position there,
ensuring the institution gets listed on prominent papers.

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Written by Alison McCook

August 22nd, 2017 at 7:59 am


  • John H Noble Jr
    August 22, 2017 at 8:22 am
    Amazing how individuals and organizations quickly learn how to
    game systems that are meant to track performance or to promote
    accountability. A very early report on the use of “social indicators” in
    the 1960s warned against the perverse effects of adopting such systems.

    I see no solution in sight except to educate audiences to apply a
    huge discount to statistics that are used to promote individual and
    organizational interests. How can it be that all hospitals in the
    vicinity are among the “best ten nationally” or that the majority of
    graduates “rise to the top of their occupations?” We seem to live in
    Jonathan Keillor’s celebrated community of Lake Woebegon, where
    everybody is “above average.”

    View 2 replies to John H Noble Jr's comment

  • aceil
    August 22, 2017 at 9:38 am
    University rankings are used to promote the use of some
    publishers tools and products. And while citation cartels boost ranking,
    retractions due to research misconduct do not have any impact on
    university ranking or academics standing. And thus, one can say that
    research misconduct pays off because it doesn’t hurt to publish now and
    retract later: 1) rankings include publication/citation counts from
    previous years and 2) most retractions are hidden.

  • L. Burke Files
    August 22, 2017 at 10:02 am
    It is only the most egregiously enfeebled organizations that
    engage in this sort of open and notorious corruption. The organizations
    can be political, commercial, or academic. Projecting this out further,
    political organizations go through a revolution, commercial
    organization are sent to a receivership – academic organizations

  • Martin Ball
    August 22, 2017 at 3:11 pm
    Garrison Keillor – that was one incorrect citation by John Noble!

    View the reply to Martin Ball's comment

  • Marco
    August 23, 2017 at 1:52 am
    Alison, you write that “The original guidelines don’t appear to include the caveat that citations be related to the study”.

    Being the Devil’s Advocate for a moment here, did the guidelines not
    say “(1) “Citation: To cite at least 3 relevant papers of colleagues in
    each of your publication” “?

    I would read the “relevant” as “relevant to the study”.

    The obvious problem with that is that putting a number on the
    required Institutional self-citations makes many studies suddenly
    “relevant” for the sole reason that they are from the some Institution.

  • Tony Hamzah
    August 24, 2017 at 10:06 am
    Is it the uni that out-ranked Waseda and Tokyo Tech in QS standing? Oh I see, this is the way they did it.

  • aceil
    August 24, 2017 at 10:41 am
    Curious why universities in many Asian and developing countries are so interested in QS ranking! Any insight?

    View the reply to aceil's comment

  • Aznijar Ahmad-yazid
    August 24, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Please find below a dissenting voice from the academic staff
    association of the university against the directive. PKAUM is the malay
    acronym for the association, Persatuan kakitangan Akademik Universiti
    Malaya. There are still sane and wise academics at Universiti Malaya.


    23 August 2017

    Citation Stacking in UM


    It has come to the attention of PKAUM that there is currently an
    institutionalised practice of “citation stacking” in our university.

    “Citation stacking” is the practice of purposefully citing the work
    of colleagues in order to boost their own profile as well as the profile
    of the university. The “advantage” of this practice is to inflate the
    importance of individual academics and to raise the university’s
    standing in any ranking system that uses citations as a criteria.

    There is nothing wrong in citing the works of others but only if it
    is relevant to one’s own work. To do so to boost one another’s standing
    and to raise the university’s ranking is not justifiable and in fact is
    dishonest because it seeks to “play the system” for personal and
    institutional gains.

    The Faculty of Engineering, fresh from the latest display of poor
    governance of treating academic staff like criminals by using a bio
    metric attendance system, has been uncovered to be involved in “citation
    stacking”. In a letter dated 3 August 2017, signed by Professor Ir. Dr.
    Noor Azuan Abu Osman, Dean of the Faculty, staff members are required
    to cite three of their colleagues in each of their publications. This is
    now part of staff members KPI in the Faculty of Engineering and it has
    been noticed by the outside world with a report on the matter published
    by Retraction Watch. The article can be read here :

    This is an unacceptable practice by the Dean of Engineering for the following reasons:

    1. It is potentially unethical, especially if the citation has
    no or minimal relevance to the work at hand and is done merely to “play
    the system” of personal aggrandisement and institutional rankings

    2. It places a ridiculous demand on academic staff by linking
    “citation stacking” to their own academic performance (via the KPI)

    3. It erodes academic freedom as staff are being forced to cite their colleagues whether they want to or not.

    For these reasons PKAUM insists that the top management of the
    university put a stop to this unsavoury practice. We also would like to
    propose a change of dean in the Faculty of Engineering, preferably
    through secret ballot. There has been too many issues coming from that
    PTJ which affects the values, ethics and principles of academia.


    Azmi Sharom



    View the reply to Aznijar Ahmad-yazid's comment

  • AM
    August 30, 2017 at 8:06 pm
    I always wonder when a dean or head of department doing
    something like this, what is actually his/her KPI? Ranking? Pleasing
    the boss? or really want to improve the ‘running’ of the department? Is
    this kind of ‘activities’ can be considered ‘fraud’ or misconduct?. I
    truly believe this kind activity is due to vague university policy in
    their research ‘adventure’.

One way to boost your uni's ranking: Ask faculty to cite each other - Retraction Watch at Retraction Watch

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