Thursday, April 06, 2017

Doing Something About Citations and Affiliations

University rankings have proliferated over the last decade. The International Rankings Expert Group's (IREG) inventory of national rankings counted 60 and there are now 40 international rankings including global, regional, subject, business school and system rankings.

In addition, there have been  a variety of spin offs and extracts from the global rankings, especially those published by Times Higher Education, including Asian, Latin American, African, MENA, Young University rankings and most international universities. The value of these varies but that of the Asian rankings must now be considered especially suspect.

THE have just released the latest edition of their Asian rankings using the world rankings indicators with a recalibration of the weightings. They have reduced the weighting given to the teaching and research reputation surveys and increased that for research income, research productivity and income from industry. Unsurprisingly, Japanese universities, with good reputations but affected by budget cuts, have performed less well than in the world rankings.

These rankings have, as usual, produced some results that are rather counter intuitive and illustrate the need for THE, other rankers and the academic publishing industry to introduce some reforms in the presentation and counting of publications and citations.

As usual, the oddities in the THE Asian rankings have a lot to do with the research impact indicator supposedly measured by citations. This, it needs to be explained, does not simply count the number of citations but compares them with the world average for over three hundred fields, five years of publications and six years of citations. Added to all that is a "regional modification" applied to half of the indicator by which the score for each university is divided by the square root of the score for the country in which the university is located. This effectively gives a boost to everybody except those places in the top scoring country, one that can be quite significant for countries with a low citation impact.

What this means is that a university with  a minimal number of papers can rack up a large and disproportionate score if it can collect large numbers of citations for a relatively small number of papers. This appears to be what has contributed to the extraordinary success of the institution variously known as Vel Tech University, Veltech University, Veltech Dr. RR & Dr. SR University and Vel Tech Rangarajan Dr Sagunthala R & D Institute of Science and Technology.

The university has scored a few local achievements, most recently ranking 58th for engineering institutions in the latest Indian NRIF rankings, but internationally, as Ben Sowter indicated in Quora, it is way down the ladder or even unable to get onto the bottom rung.

So how did it get to be the third best university and best private university in India according to the THE Asian rankings? How could it have the highest research impact of any university in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India and Asia and perhaps the highest or second highest in the world.

Ben Sowter of QS Intelligence Unit has provided the answer. It is basically due to industrial scale self-citation.

"Their score of 100 for citations places them as the topmost university in Asia for citations, more than 6 points clear of their nearest rival. This is an indicator weighted at 30%. Conversely, and very differently from other institutions in the top 10 for citations, with a score of just 8.4 for research, they come 285/298 listed institutions. So an obvious question emerges, how can one of the weakest universities in the list for research, be the best institution in the list for citations?
The simple answer? It can’t. This is an invalid result, which should have been picked up when the compilers undertook their quality assurance checks.
It’s technically not a mistake though, it has occurred as a result of the Times Higher Education methodology not excluding self-citations, and the institution appears to have, for either this or other purposes, undertaken a clear campaign to radically promote self-citations from 2015 onwards.
In other words and in my opinion, the university has deliberately and artificially manipulated their citation records, to cheat this or some other evaluation system that draws on them.
The Times Higher Education methodology page explains: The data include the 23,000 academic journals indexed by Elsevier’s Scopus database and all indexed publications between 2011 and 2015. Citations to these publications made in the six years from 2011 to 2016 are also collected.
So let’s take a look at the Scopus records for Vel Tech for those periods. There are 973 records in Scopus on the primary Vel Tech record for the period 2011–2015 (which may explain why Vel Tech have not featured in their world ranking which has a threshold of 1,000). Productivity has risen sharply through that period from 68 records in 2011 to 433 records in 2015 - for which due credit should be afforded.
The issue begins to present itself when we look at the citation picture. "
He continues:
 "That’s right. Of the 13,864 citations recorded for the main Vel Tech affiliation in the measured period 12,548 (90.5%) are self-citations!!
A self-citation is not, as some readers might imagine, one researcher at an institution citing another at their own institution, but that researcher citing their own previous research, and the only way to a group of researchers will behave that way collectively on this kind of scale so suddenly, is to have pursued a deliberate strategy to do so for some unclear and potentially nefarious purpose.
It’s not a big step further to identify some of the authors who are most clearly at the heart of this strategy by looking at the frequency of their occurence amongst the most cited papers for Vel Tech. Whilst this involves a number of researchers, at the heart of it seems to be Dr. Sundarapandian Vaidyanathan, Dean of the R&D Center.
Let’s take as an example, a single paper he published in 2015 entitled “A 3-D novel conservative chaotic system and its generalized projective synchronization via adaptive control”. Scopus lists 144 references, 19 of which appear to be his own prior publications. The paper has been cited 114 times, 112 times by himself in other work."

In addition, the non-self citations are from a very small number of people, including his co-authors. Basically his audience is himself and a small circle of friends.

Another point is that Dr Vaidyanathan has published in a limited of journals and conference proceedings the most important of which are the International Journal of Pharmtech Research and the International Journal of Chemtech Research, both of which have Vaidyanathan as an associate editor. My understanding of Scopus procedures for inclusion and retention in the database is that the number of citations is very important. I was once associated with a journal that was highly praised by the Scopus reviewers for the quality of its contents but rejected because it had few citations. I wonder if Scopus's criteria include watching out for self-citations.

The Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Chemtech Research is listed as Bhavik J Bhatt who received his Ph D from the University of Iowa in 2013 and does not appear to have ever held a full time university post.

The Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Pharmtech Research is Moklesur R Sarker, associate professor at Lincoln University College Malaysia, which in 2015 was reported to be in trouble for admitting bogus students.

I will be scrupulously fair and quote Dr Vaidyanathan.

"I joined Veltech University in 2009 as a Professor and shortly, I joined the Research and Development Centre at Veltech University. My recent research areas are chaos and control theory. I like to stress that research is a continuous process, and research done in one topic becomes a useful input to next topic and the next work cannot be carried on without referring to previous work. My recent research is an in-depth study and discovery of new chaotic and hyperchaotic systems, and my core research is done on chaos, control and applications of these areas. As per my Scopus record, I have published a total of 348 research documents. As per Scopus records, my work in chaos is ranked as No. 2, and ranked next to eminent Professor G. Chen. Also, as per Scopus records, my work in hyperchaos is ranked as No. 1, and I have contributed to around 50 new hyperchaotic systems. In Scopus records, I am also included in the list of peers who have contributed in control areas such as ‘Adaptive Control’, ‘Backstepping Control’, ‘Sliding Mode Control’ and ‘Memristors’. Thus, the Scopus record of my prolific research work gives ample evidence of my subject expertise in chaos and control. In this scenario, it is not correct for others to state that self-citation has been done for past few years with an intention of misleading others. I like to stress very categorically that the self-citations are not an intention of me or my University.         
I started research in chaos theory and control during the years 2010-2013. My visit to Tunisia as a General Chair and Plenary Speaker in CEIT-2013 Control Conference was a turning point in my research career. I met many researchers in control systems engineering and I actively started my research collaborations with foreign faculty around the world. From 2013-2016, I have developed many new results in chaos theory such as new chaotic systems, new hyperchaotic systems, their applications in various fields, and I have also published several papers in control techniques such as adaptive control, backstepping control, sliding mode control etc. Recently, I am also actively involved in new areas such as fractional-order chaotic systems, memristors, memristive devices, etc."
"Regarding citations, I cite the recent developments like the discovery of new chaotic and hyperchaotic systems, recent applications of these systems in various fields like physics, chemistry, biology, population ecology, neurology, neural networks, mechanics, robotics, chaos masking, encryption, and also various control techniques such as active control, adaptive control, backstepping control, fuzzy logic control, sliding mode control, passive control, etc,, and these recent developments include my works also."

His claim that self citation was not his intention is odd. Was he citing in his sleep or was he possessed by an evil spirit when he wrote his papers or signed off on them? The claim about citing recent developments that include his own work misses the point. Certainly somebody like Chomsky would cite himself when reviewing developments in formal linguistics but he would also be cited by other people. Aside from himself and his co-authors Dr Vaidyanathan is cited by almost nobody.

The problems with the citations indicator in the THE Asian rankings do not end there. Here are a few cases of universities with very low scores for research and unbelievably high scores for research impact

King Abdulaziz University is ranked second in Asia for research impact. This is an old story and it is achieved by the massive recruitment of adjunct faculty culled from the lists of highly cited researchers.

Toyota Technological Institute is supposedly best in Japan for research impact, which I suspect would be news to most Japanese academics, but 19th for research.

Atilim University in Ankara is supposedly the best in Turkey for research impact but also has a very low score for research.

The high citations score for Quaid i Azam University in Pakistan results from participation in the multi-author physics papers derived from the CERN projects. In addition, there is one hyper productive researcher in applied mathematics.

Tokyo Metropolitan University gets a high score for citation because of a few much cited papers in physics and molecular genetics.

Bilkent university is a contributor to frequently cited multi-author papers in genetics.

According to THE Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) is the second best university in Malaysia and best for research impact, something that will come as a surprise to anyone with the slightest knowledge of Malaysian higher education. This is because of participation in the global burden of disease study, whose papers propelled Anglia Ruskin University to the apex of British research. Other universities with disproportionate scores for research impact include Soochow University  China, North East Normal University China, Jordan University of Science and Technology, Panjab University India, Comsats Institute of Information Technology Pakistan and Yokohama City University Japan.

There are some things that the ranking and academic publishing industries need to do about the collection, presentation and distribution of publications and citations data.

1.  All rankers should exclude self- citations from citation counts. This is very easy to do, just clicking a box, and has been done by QS since 2011. It would be even better if intra-university and intra-journal citations were excluded as well.

2.  There will almost certainly be a growing problem with the recruitment of adjunct staff who will be asked to do no more than list an institution as a secondary affiliation when publishing papers. It would be sensible if academic publishers simply insisted that there be only one affiliation per author. If they do not it should be possible for rankers to count only the first named author.

3.  The more fields there are the greater the chances that rankings can be skewed by strategically or accidentally placed citations. The number of fields used for normalisation should be kept to a reasonable number.

4. A visit to the Leiden Ranking website and a few minutes tinkering with their settings and parameters will show that citations can be used to measure several different things. Rankers should use more than one indicator to measure citations.

5. It defies common sense for any ranking to give a greater weight to citations than to publications. Rankers need to review the weighting given to their citation indicators. In particular,  THE needs to think about their regional modification. which has the effect, noted above, of increasing the citations score for nearly everybody and so pushing the actual weighting of the indicator above 30 per cent.

6. Academic publishers and databases like Scopus and Web of Science need to audit journals on a regular basis.

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