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.
- 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.
- 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”
- 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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