Organisation - December 19, 2019

A list with a blemish

Roelof Kleis

WUR performs well in the latest Highly Cited list. But there is one blemish.

Every year, the scientific world eagerly awaits the list of Highly Cited Researchers, the top one per cent most cited scientists in a field. The list is compiled by the Web of Science Group. Highly Cited Researchers are important people in their field. WUR has no fewer than 22 scientists on the list this year. Of the Dutch universities only Utrecht has more (26). But there is a slight taint to Wageningen’s achievement.

That is clear if you run through the list. In addition to the usual suspects — the acknowledged leading lights at Wageningen University & Research — one name stands out. This is the researcher who was involved in an international investigation two years ago into citation fraud by a Spanish scientist who was a friend of theirs. As an anonymous reviewer, the Spaniard consistently insisted on authors referring to his articles.

The Wageningen colleague benefited from this ‘citation pushing’ as a co-author of the Spaniard, as did many others. WUR’s Scientific Integrity Committee decided the Wageningen researcher was not personally guilty of systematic citation pushing. However, the incident did lead to the Dutch Association of Universities including explicit rules on ethical reviewing in the new code of conduct at the request of WUR.

According to rector magnificus Arthur Mol, the Executive Board also urged the publishers of the journals in question to remove any unjustified citations. The only publisher to respond was Elsevier, but it did not see a possibility for doing this: it is apparently difficult to correct citations retrospectively. That means the unjustified citations still count for the Highly Cited list.

Mol acknowledges that academia’s ability to purge itself has failed. Especially given that the university where the citation-pushing Spanish researcher works has not taken any measures. That is why this year’s Highly Cited list feels tainted for WUR and the researcher in question. ‘But we did at least get citation pushing into the code of conduct,’ says Mol.

The researcher in question does not wish to comment on the situation.

Re:actions 1

  • PL

    A still very much active cartel of citation!