Month: January 2017

Why am I going round in circles? From self-citation to citation cartels

Citations are extensively used as a proxy measure to evaluate a scholar’s work and ‘reputation’. Therefore, increasing the number of citations of one’s own papers is highly desirable, although it may become subject to controversial practices. The easiest way to boost one’s citation count is self-citation, even though journal editors and general ethics of academic publishing generally try to discourage its excessive use.

 Another way of boosting citations is citing each other’s articles. A citation circle is a group of scholars who tend to cite each other’ s work significantly more than they cite other authors in the field. Still, it is very hard to detect it with simple algorithms as it is in the case of self-citations: while defending the use of quantitative citation reports for policy making, Garfield & Welljams-Dorof (1992) name citation circles as a possible limitation to the approach but their conclusion about them is that “they are rarely, if ever, documented and identified.” More recently, however, Greenberg’s (2009) research shows how an “unfounded authority” gets created  through a citation network affected by biases, amplification, and invention.

Citation gaming reaches a completely different scale, though, when it involves editors and journals themselves, in the attempt to raise their impact factors. These are no more just citations circles but citations cartels. Scholarly Kitchen addresses this issue in their 2012 blog post The Emergence of a Citation Cartel, which reviews a number of case studies in which groups of editors and journals supposedly placed self-referential papers in a cooperating journal: “a cheap and effective strategy if the goal is to boost one’s impact factor”.

Murat Gulsacan

Michele Luchetti

What are alternative metrics?

How is the output of scholarly research tracked and its impact measured? Traditional ways of measuring how influential academic publications are include, for example, the h-index of an author and the impact factor of a journal. Traditional metrics, however, are slow and focus solely on the official academic citations of published works. As nowadays discussions of and interest in academic work can be found in various places besides official journals and publications, Altmetrics provide alternative citation impact metrics by taking a variety of factors into account, in addition to citation counts. For instance, they consider article views, downloads, or mentions in social media and news media.

Altmetrics “expand our view of what impact looks like, but also of what’s making the impact” (cited from Altmetrics Manifesto). They are calculated by projects like Impactstory and companies like and Plum Analytics, which aim at helping researchers explore and share the online impact of their research by collecting the online activity surrounding their scholarly contents. This ‘online activity’ can include: peer reviews on Faculty of 1000, citations on Wikipedia and in public policy documents, discussions on research blogs, mainstream media coverage, bookmarks on reference managers like Mendeley, and mentions on social networks such as Twitter.

Indeed, the use of Altmetrics to estimate scholarly impact is far from being uncontroversial, for various reasons. Altmetrics can be gamed, since likes and mentions on social media channels can be bought, and do not tell much, if anything, about the quality of the paper: papers with high altmetrics score might just be very controversial ones.

Anders Yuk Pui Lam

Michele Luchetti

Follow me: how to best share your work?

The exchange of ideas and the dissemination of knowledge is a goal, and at the same time, the engine of academic life. However, one thing that you might want to consider before sharing your work is the purpose of sharing: why do you want to share your work with others? By whom do you want your work to be seen? In this post we would like to help your choice among the several online sharing platforms available for academics by reviewing three of the most prominent ones:, ResearchGate and, for philosophy, PhilPapers. is a broad network that targets all academics and aims at providing a platform for them to share their work and accelerating the world’s research. They claim to currently have more than 46,000,000 users, who have shared almost 17,000,000 papers. If you would like to have your work known by academics working in many different fields, could be a good choice. However, you should consider whether the sharing system is too broad to get you audience and discussions focused enough. It should also be noted that non-users cannot download or read your work.

This last feature also characterises ResearchGate, a platform which is similar to, but has ‘only’ around 11,000,000 users, since its target are mainly academics working in the sciences. As a consequence, ResearchGate might get a sharper focus of audience and interactions.

PhilPapers is a philosophy specific research database (see our entry for more on this) which also provides the possibility to create a user profile and upload papers. Due to the narrow target in terms of users, it has just slightly more than 180,000. However, it is unique in that it is a community network of philosophers, but still it is accessible to non-philosophers and non-users.

Anders Yuk Pui Lam

Michele Luchetti

Have you ever built your own Google algorithm?

Google Scholar is certainly one of the simplest and fastest research tools available. When you’ve whacked in your keywords into Google Scholar and hit the magnifying glass search button, you typically end up with thousands if not millions of results. These are ordered by a ranking algorithm which ‘aims to rank documents the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature’ (cf. Google Scholar_About). Whatever this means exactly, it seems clear from using Scholar that the mysterious algorithm puts most weight on citation counts and words included in a document’s title.

However, there are alternative and more flexible tools at one’s disposal. For instance, EBSCO Discovery Service (as found on the CEU Library website), has a more structured and transparent relevance ranking process. According to their website, results are ranked according to the number of times your search terms appear in a document or the “cataloguing information” accompanying it. To this end, EBSCO has six ranked fields in which your search terms might be matched – subject heading, title, author-supplied keywords, abstract, authors, full-text. Based on these metadata, you can literally build your own personal research algorithm! And you ever wondered why people deem Google Scholar ‘hard and fast’.

For more on the world of database research, see our blog entry on Web of Science and Scopus, and our entry on PhilPapers and Philosopher’s Index.

Jamie Elliott
Michele Luchetti

Tackling interdisciplinary research? Discover global databases!

Interdisciplinary databases cover a wide range of academic subjects including arts, humanities, natural and social sciences. Two exemplars of those databases are Web of Science and Scopus. Web of Science (previously known as Web of Knowledge) is a collection of databases maintained by Thomson Reuters. Scopus is a large interdisciplinary database from Elsevier, with particular strengths in science and technology.  Each has its highlights, which we briefly summarise in this post.

Web of science contains more than 12,000 high-impact factor research journals in the fields of science, social sciences and humanities. One of its main advantages is its ability to track the citations of the paper you have searched by means of colourful charts, that give you a general idea on the research status about your topic. This feature is most helpful when you have already safely landed in the area related to your research paper. This is important when it comes to the actual search by keywords: you can use Web of science at its best by means of a precise combination of keywords and search operators (AND, OR, NOT, NEAR,…).

The citation analysis can be conducted also in Scopus, which is a great option in terms of general search, since it offers a collective field (Article Title, Abstracts, Keywords) in its research interface. This feature will greatly help you if you are still surfing your field to see what has been published. Scopus has also the advantage of covering more literature, since it claims to contain more than 20,000 research journals and more than 130,000 books, but the coverage varies noticeably depending on the discipline.

Noha Hendi

Michele Luchetti