Obsessed with getting cited? You may have “Publiphilia Impactfactorius”

Joeri Tijdink

As a scientist, are you always focused on improving your metrics by such means as getting papers into prestigious journals? Do your funders and institutions add to that pressure to get ahead? If so, you may be at risk of a new psychiatric condition known as “Publiphilia Impactfactorius” — or, simply, PI, described in a PeerJ preprint. We talked to first author Joeri Tijdink at VU Medical Center (VUmc) in Amsterdam about this tongue-in-cheek take-down of the scientific condition, and whether there is any cure for the affliction.

Retraction Watch: You describe several new personality traits and clusters. Tell us more about this.

Joeri Tijdink: We have studied personality traits (narcissism, psychopathy, self-esteem, Machiavellianism) in 535 biomedical scientists and associated these traits with research misbehaviors. These results are published in a serious publication here.

From a psychiatric perspective (I am a psychiatrist), I felt that from my observations of the research culture there are several personality subtypes of scientists that may show (pseudo)psychiatric symptoms and traits. However, I was unable to classify these individuals in a formal psychiatric classification. Therefore, we have conducted a cluster analysis and found 3 different personality clusters with specific features. We named them after their personality profile and features; the sneaky grandiose, the perfectionists and the ideal sons-in-law.

Sneaky grandiose are narcissistic psychopathic professors with high scores on research misbehaviors, perfectionists are Machiavellianistic neurotics with high achievement standards and ideal sons-in-law have low narcissistic and Machiavellianistic traits, are self-confident and successful individuals with a High H-index.

RW: Roughly one-third of your sample of scientists fell into the “sneaky grandiose” category, which you believe are more likely to engage in research misconduct. What does that say about scientists in general?

JT: Good question. We can only hypothesize, but it may imply that there is a subtype of scientists that have sneaky grandiose traits that get more easily involved in undesirable research practices (I wouldn’t call it research misconduct). Still, I firmly believe that the majority of scientists is good hearted, sincere, honest and very honorable.

RW: You say a small percentage of “sneaky grandiose” scientists likely suffer from “a psychiatric condition characterized by pathological preoccupation with publishing and being cited,” which you term a syndrome called Publiphilia Impactfactorius (PI). Is Publiphilia Impactfactorius contagious? Is there a treatment or cure?

JT: Publiphilia is highly contagious. Due to the fact that most patients set the tone for younger scientists they supervise, they serve as examples. Young students that are supervised by PIs copy their bad behaviors and traits. This makes it highly contagious. And don’t underestimate the genetic heredity. The good news is that there is only a small proportion of scientists that can be classified with this severe syndrome. You should be aware that Publiphilia is only the pathognomonic end of the sneaky grandiose continuum.

RW: How can hiring institutions use the results of your survey to guide their decisions?

JT: Institutions will surely prefer to select and hire scientists that belong to the ideal son-in-law cluster. They are the ideal scientists that can lead and inspire a research group and foster responsible research practices. They care, they listen, they are good role models. The easiest way to select them in hiring procedures in institutions is to bring mothers-in-law to the job interviews. They are the perfect diagnostic instrument for selection of this cluster.

RW: You report a 65% response rate to your survey, and a 49% completion rate. Those seem high. Do you attribute this to high levels of narcissism among your sample?

JT: It is no secret that narcissists are keen on their narcissism, but this may not be the full reason for this high response rate. It is also due to the considerable amount of perfectionists in the sample. Their neuroticism oblige them to finish tasks. They are unable to accept incomplete tasks such as an outstanding survey.

RW: Was the author order on this paper determined by H-index, given your apparent obsession with this metric?

JT: The H-index is a very bad proxy for scientific quality but indeed a good proxy for Publiphilia. So yes, the authors order was based on symptom severity of Publiphilia. Unfortunately, the H-index of the first author is relatively low. We hope that with this interview and preprint we will be able to influence his H-index.

RW: We note that you failed to cite at least one earlier paper on “Impact Factor mania.” We’re sure there’s some justification for this, so please provide it.

JT: We are aware of this psychiatric condition. However, this classification has no formal description of symptoms and although we do acknowledge this type of mania, we feel that this is so common in science that we would consider this mental state as normal in scientists.

RW: We have heard that you have applied for a patent on a test for “sneaky grandiose” personality, and that a company plans to license your test. Yet your disclosures only include a vague mention of a “wellness centre for Principal Investigators suffering from Publiphilia Impactfactorius.” Can you comment?

JT: No comment. Being too outspoken about the classification and treatment options, this may be judged as financial conflict of interest. We would only like to stress that the PI syndrome has no cure, but intensive palliative care is crucial to fight the most severe symptoms and support the family and loved ones.

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21 thoughts on “Obsessed with getting cited? You may have “Publiphilia Impactfactorius””

  1. Is this a joke? It seems to exhibit the attention-seeking behavior it supposedly satirizes. Not to mention the decision terminology pointed out by Miranda.

  2. I’m genuinely horrified and disgusted that ‘ideal sons-in-law’ made it to print without anyone questioning for one second if that was just a tiny bit gendered. Yup, 21st century, and the default for scientist is still ‘male’. You can do better than this.

    1. I’m disappointed that the “ideal son-in-law” label was mentioned three times, yet there was no follow up question by RW on why the label was chosen or how it might be perceived by readers.

      The three male authors even admit in the pre-print discussion that: “ Sneaky grandiose’ was the dominant phenotype among men, whereas ‘Ideal son-in-law’ was most prevalent in female biomedical scientists. This suggests that ‘Ideal daughter-in-law’ may be a more appropriate label for this cluster. ”

      They knew that most women were in this cluster, yet still chose label it with the male gender.

        1. The PeerJ manuscript reads
          “Board members and head of research departments should bring their mother-in-law to the job interviews to select the ideal candidate.”

          But I think you might be missing the point, this is a satire as indicated by the authors:
          “Disclaimer: Attention! Please be aware that this manuscript is meant as a tongue-in-cheek article.”

          I though it was clear from the tone of the interview, but sometimes irony is lost. I have picked a few sentences from the PeerJ paper that I though would clearly indicate that this is a satire:
          “Although we felt that it was highly unlikely that our study has limitations […]”
          “We suggest [Publiphilia Impactfactorius (PI)] should be considered while revising the DSM-IV TR or ICD-10. Auspiciously, the abbreviation of the syndrome parallels that of Principle Investigator.”
          “Some [Individuals that suffer from PI] even have rage attacks after noticing that their Hirsch index had not risen since they looked at it a few days earlier.”
          “Competing interests: […] However, the authors are all diagnosed to be sneaky grandiose and as being borderline cases of Publiphilia Impactfactorius.”
          “Acknowledgement: We would like to thank all ‘patients’ (:-)) that participated in our survey.”

          1. What is “the point”? The authors describe an actual study where they recruited participants working in biomedical sciences (the majority of whom were women), provided incomplete disclosure to participants on the true purpose of the study and its planned analyses (eg to produce a “tongue-in-cheek” paper), failed to inform participants at any point of this deception (as recommended in guidelines for ethical conduct of research involving deception and incomplete disclosure), admitted interpreting data in ways that were biased and unscientific, and are using the PeerJ preprint forum to joke about, and attempt to legitimise, conscious bias and discrimination against women working in biomedical sciences.

          2. is it satire if it’s not funny? It seems like a completely daft thing to do, and Anonymous sums up all that is flippant and insulting about this style of humor. Pushing through to a position of authority as a female academic is hard enough without having to fake guffaw along with this tosh

      1. Disclaimer: I have not read the PLoS version, but only the PeerJ one.

        I agree that the terminology is unfortunate. “ideal son / daughter-in-law” is only a little longer. Notice that the authors once got close in the PeerJ manuscript: “Hence we suggest targeting ideal sons (or daughters)-in-law for future key positions in biomedical science.”.

        Alternatively, they could have used a completely different label, but playing the devil’s advocate, maybe they sticked to the male version because “ideal son-in-law” is easily associated (by the average reader) with the mental characteristics of the people belonging to that group (“low narcissistic and machiavellianistic traits”), while “ideal daughter-in-law” might not be. This of course reflects how strong the gender inequalities still are.

        Even with a badly chosen label, the authors still highlight the differences observed between female and male scientists.
        – From the abstract: “Male gender, […] were associated with the ‘sneaky grandiose’ personality cluster.”
        – From the discussion: “[Board members] can also directly appoint one of the female candidates, as PI seems to be very rare among them.” Here PI stands for Publiphilia Impactfactorius – fortuitously, the statement is still valid if PI stands for Principal Investigators.

        Regardless of the problematic label, I will still use this study to motivate changes in the way we hire scientists. I think these practical issues also matter.

  3. “Institutions will surely prefer to select and hire scientists that belong to the ideal son-in-law cluster. They are the ideal scientists that can lead and inspire a research group and foster responsible research practices.”

    The word choices immediately exclude women and frame ideal scientists and new hires as men. As this is traditionally the default outlook anyways, this phrasing is harmful

  4. It’s amazing as to how many of the “commenters” posting here did NOT realize that this is a joke! The first paragraph of the posting specifically refers to “tongue-in-cheek” which is an obvious giveaway…

    1. This “joke” analysed real participant data and draw biased, flawed, and highly discriminatory conclusions. At best, it demonstrates contempt and disrespect for participants who believed they were contributing to a legitimate study. At worst, it’s an unethical research study that should not be legitimised by publication in a legitimate forum.

  5. Dear all,

    Thank you for your comments on this interview and article. As the first author of the manusript, I am happy to inform you on the onging gender discussion in the comments section of this interview.
    In the discussion section of the manuscript we propose that the cluster should be called ‘ideal daughters-in-law’ as the majority of this cluster is female.

    See discussion section page 8: whereas ‘Ideal son-in-law’ was most prevalent in female biomedical scientists. This suggests that ‘Ideal daughter-in-law’ may be a more appropriate label for this cluster.

    Cheers,
    Joeri Tijdink

    1. Dear dr. Tijdink

      Thank you for joining.
      Unfortunately, your reference to the term “ideal daughters-in-law” in the discussion doesn’t counter-balance the multiple references to “ideal sons-in-law” in other parts of the paper, including in the abstract.

      In fact, your post serves to highlight one of significant scientific and ethical flaws in the paper: your team reviewed the results, noted that the majority of people in the category were women, then deliberately chose a category label implying the opposite result. It appears that after looking at the data and realizing you liked the character traits but not the gender, you and your team knowingly misrepresented the outcome, and used it to justify conscious bias and discrimination against women working (or hoping to work) in the biomedical sciences.
      Ironically, in doing this you managed to demonstrate how this type of bias and discrimination works in practice. Your methodology captures an insidious, pervasive, and destructive form of discrimination that I, and thousands of other women in STEMM, have experienced too many times and across too many institutions. Such bias in recruitment and promotion has frustrated and shortened careers, and likely driven tens of thousands of women out of the biomedical sciences and engineering. It’s not a joke.

      It’s even more offensive here because you wilfully deceived the 500+ real participants who provided the data for this “study “. For researchers, use of deception and incomplete disclosure has significant implications for ethical conduct of research, particularly in respect of fully informed consent and rights of participants. Since the paper doesn’t mention it, I conclude you didn’t consider or respect the rights of participants to full disclosure, nor the potential for harm to them and others impacted by your “tongue-in-cheek” work. In my opinion, the conduct of this study has been deeply unethical and indefensibly flawed. It deserves full and swift condemnation by the scientific community.

  6. ELF
    What is “the point”? The authors describe an actual study where they recruited participants working in biomedical sciences (the majority of whom were women), provided incomplete disclosure to participants on the true purpose of the study and its planned analyses (eg to produce a “tongue-in-cheek” paper), failed to inform participants at any point of this deception (as recommended in guidelines for ethical conduct of research involving deception and incomplete disclosure), admitted interpreting data in ways that were biased and unscientific, and are using the PeerJ preprint forum to joke about, and attempt to legitimise, conscious bias and discrimination against women working in biomedical sciences.

    I will not comment on the ethical aspect of the study, I have never conducted such kind of research and therefore I am not knowledgeable on the guidelines. Your question surely needs to be answered by the authors.

    About the message of the paper, you consider this preprint as an attempt to legitimize discrimination. That is not at all how I read it, maybe because I don’t think discrimination can ever be legitimized. Even with the poorly chosen label, what I take home regarding gender issues is that there are more males among the “sneaky grandiose” scientists and more females among the “ideal son/daughter-in-law” scientists. And in case it is not clear, we need more “ideal son/daughter-in-law” scientists and less “sneaky grandiose” scientists. This might not be surprising, especially for us retractionwatch readers, but still I believe that this is one of the many ways to convince researchers to do something about bias and discrimination (even if the manuscript itself sometimes uses a discriminative language).

  7. Joeri Tijdink

    In the discussion section of the manuscript we propose that the cluster should be called ‘ideal daughters-in-law’ as the majority of this cluster is female.
    See discussion section page 8: whereas ‘Ideal son-in-law’ was most prevalent in female biomedical scientists. This suggests that ‘Ideal daughter-in-law’ may be a more appropriate label for this cluster.

    So, after realising your unnecessarily gendered language was incorrect and discussing this – you retained it anyway? Sorry, I am now confused. Were you trying to clarify, justify – or perhaps just offer your work as an example of the kind of insidious unconscious bias which serves to continue the weird gender skewing in STEM professions?

  8. So, after realising your unnecessarily gendered language was incorrect and discussing this – you retained it anyway? Sorry, I am now confused. Were you trying to clarify, justify – or perhaps just offer your work as an example of the kind of insidious unconscious bias which serves to continue the weird gender skewing in STEM professions?

    especially irritating because your study appears to show that women academics are proportionately ‘low narcissistic and Machiavellianistic traits, are self-confident and successful individuals with a High H-index’- i.e desirable members of a faculty. Which you then use a male descriptor for.

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