First of all the Times Higher Education (THE) ranking system used this year has humiliated THE and Thompson/Reuters, so you can bet it will never be seen again. Next year Alexandria will fall hundreds of places. THE will make sure of it.
There's a fundamental problem with Impact Factor (IF) itself, which isn't used only for university ranking schemes, but as a criterion for promotion and compensation of academics all over the world, by university administrators. It has been noted that THE didn't account in its weightings for differences between disciplines in how many citations per paper are typical. That is true but it misses the forest for one stunted tree.
El Naschie got caught because his self-citation misconduct was so extreme. Many others were less blatant and have not been called out. One proposed fix is to drop self-citations from the IF counts. That would push Alexandria out of the top 200 certainly, and from THE's perspective solve the problem -- their embarrassment. But it would do nothing about systematic mutual back-scratching between academics, between universities, or between journals as with the Ji-Huan He/Mohamed El Naschie mutual admiration society.
Ji-Huan He didn't get his ludicrous "hottest research" accolades only by self-citation, but by having his students cite long lists of his birdcage liners in papers of their own.
A suggestion has been made to implement an increasing weighting factor for citations, the farther they are from the cited paper in terms of graph distance between citer and cited, with an adjacency metric based on coauthorship, akin to Erdős number. This Rube Goldberg idea would still be gameable by the El Naschies and Hes of the world. They'd love the challenge.
These general observations about IF shortcomings are not my own. Commenters on this blog and University Ranking Watch know all about these issues. They were... uh... soon identified by various newspapers. I'm just mentioning them because of the strong feeling from readers who have commented here, and corresponded with me, that something needs to be said and something needs to be done.
Good luck with that.
There's no technical solution. No system of rules or weights will fix the problem. One cannot do better than public humiliation of worst offenders -- a non-technical solution that THE will not adopt.
We return now to our usual coverage: All El Naschie All The Time.