The world's most-cited researchers, according to newly released data, are a curiously eclectic bunch. Nobel laureates and eminent polymaths rub shoulders with less familiar names, such as Sundarapandian Vaidyanathan from Chennai in India. What leaps out about Vaidyanathan and hundreds of other researchers is that many of the citations to their work come from their own papers, or from those of their co-authors.
Vaidyanathan, a computer scientist at the Vel Tech R&D Institute of Technology, a privately run institute, is an extreme example: he has received 94% of his citations from himself or his co-authors up to 2017, according to "A Standardized Citation Metrics Author Database Annotated for Scientific Field," published in PLoS Biology. He is not alone. The data set, which lists around 100,000 researchers, shows that at least 250 scientists have amassed more than 50% of their citations from themselves or their co-authors, while the median self-citation rate is 12.7%.
The study could help to flag potential extreme self-promoters, and possibly 'citation farms,' in which clusters of scientists massively cite each other, say the researchers. "Those with greater than 25% self-citation are not necessarily engaging in unethical behavior, but closer scrutiny may be needed," says John Ioannidis, a physician at Stanford University in California who specializes in meta-science and who led the work.
Although many scientists agree that excessive self-citation is a problem, there is little consensus on how much is too much or on what to do about the issue. And the idea of publicly listing individuals' self-citation rates, or evaluating them on the basis of metrics corrected for self-citation, is highly contentious.
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