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Mathematics: How so-called citation cartels infiltrate science and knowledge

Mathematics: How so-called citation cartels infiltrate science and knowledge

Groups of mathematicians at institutions in China, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are believed to have artificially inflated their colleagues' citation counts. In addition, they published low-quality work that frequently cited their colleagues' articles – causing them to rise in the relevant rankings. This is the result of an analysis not yet published by the journal Science Sciences It has been watched. As a result, universities – some of which do not even appear to have mathematics departments – publish more mathematical papers each year that receive more citations than the most reputable schools in the field, such as Stanford and Princeton.

According to experts, it appears that the so-called “citation cartels” are trying to improve the rankings of their universities. “The stakes are high: promotions or downgrades can cost universities tens of millions of dollars,” says Cameron Nealon, professor of research communications at Australia's Curtin University. “It is inevitable that people will bend and break the rules to improve their situation.” In response to such practices, citation analysis firm Clarivate excluded the entire field of mathematics from its most recent ranking of highly cited papers, published in November 2023.

Many articles appear in journals that no serious mathematician reads

The new analysis is the work of Domingo Docampo, a mathematician at the Spanish university University of Vigo, who has worked on university ranking systems for a long time. In recent years, Docampo notes that the list of most famous researchers at Clarivate (HCR) has been gradually taken over by less well-known mathematicians. “There were people who published in journals that no serious mathematician reads, whose work was cited in articles that no serious mathematician reads, and who came from institutions that no one in mathematics knew about,” he says. So he decided to examine Clarivate data over the past 15 years to see which universities were publishing highly cited papers and who was citing them.

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The data show that between 2008 and 2010, institutions such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Princeton published the most highly cited mathematical papers, with 28 and 27 papers, respectively. The one percent of specialized articles that are most frequently cited in a year fall into this category. However, from 2021 to 2023, prestigious universities have been replaced by institutions with little sporting tradition, many of which can be found in China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Recently, China Medical University in Taiwan topped the list with 95 highly cited mathematical papers. A decade ago, this institution was not represented on the list by a single paper. On the other hand, UCLA recently only had one highly cited paper.

Docampo found patterns that suggest there are citation cartels at work. Even more telling is that citations in top research papers often come from researchers at the same institution as the authors of the paper in question. For example, China Medical University and King Abdulaziz University, which had 66 notable publications between 2021 and 2023, published hundreds of studies that cited highly cited papers. Docampo also found that studies that cited highly cited research were often published in questionable journals that may be more receptive to questionable citation practices.

Scholars not involved in Docampo's analysis assert that all this points to widespread manipulation of quotes. “There are a number of researchers who try to artificially increase the frequency of citations in a way that in no way reflects their scientific quality,” says Helge Holden, chairman of the Abel Prize committee, one of the most prestigious prizes in mathematics. “One can only condemn it.”

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Yue Xingqin, first secretary of the Chinese Medical University, says his university has not engaged in the practice. “We know nothing about target prices and are not involved in such manipulations.” He adds that engaging “world-renowned experts and scholars in fields such as applied mathematics” is part of the university’s interdisciplinary approach. King Abdulaziz University did not respond Sciences Post a comment.

Clarivate declined to comment on the matter. In the explanations of his decision, mathematicians from the youngest HCR List However, the company makes clear that it is concerned about attempts to raise its profile through publication and citation manipulation. Mathematics is particularly vulnerable to manipulation, the company wrote, because its scope is small. “The average publication and citation rate… is relatively low, so small increases in publications and citations can distort the view and analysis of the entire field.”

“We deeply regret that there was no other choice but to stop performing calculations at all.”

But citations are also being manipulated in other disciplines, says Felix de Moya Anegón, a bibliometrician at the University of Granada, but it's not entirely clear. Ilka Agricola, chair of the IUM Committee on Information and Electronic Communications, fears creating the impression that the field has been infiltrated by “rogue scientists”. She deeply regrets that Clarivats “seems to have no other choice but to stop doing mathematics at all.”

Clarivate says it has “sought advice from external experts… to discuss our future approach to analyzing this area.” Docampo is already working on a revised scale to evaluate citations based on the quality of the journals and institutions cited.

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Other researchers say citation manipulation is just a symptom of a flawed classification system. Quotes and similar metrics are not sophisticated enough to evaluate individual performance, and people will always find ways to game the system, says Ismail Rafols, a researcher at the Center for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University. Helge Holden of the Abel Prize committee agrees: “The bottom line is that citations are not a good measure of scientific quality.”

This article is taken from Science magazine the sciencesH. Translated and reprinted with permission from AAAS. It is not an official translation of Sciences-Editorial Board. In case of doubt, the original English text, published by AAAS, applies. German Adaptation: Huh