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Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2010 12:09:35 +0100
Reply-To: "Tuite, Michael"
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From: "Tuite, Michael"
Subject: maths: Citation Manipulation in 2010 Times Higher Education World University Rankings
To: MATHDEP LISTSERV.HEANET.IE
Dear Mathdep users,
I would like to use this forum to bring to the attention of the Irish mathematical community some comments about the 2010 Times Higher Education World University rankings. These are concerned with the manipulation of citation indices and the spectacular catapulting of Alexandria University into joint 147th place in the world. Specifically, Alexandria University has been placed 4th in the world behind Cal Tech, MIT and Princeton under the research-influence category due to the work of a single author - Mohamed El Naschie, former chief editor of Chaos, Solitons and Fractals (CSF) published by Elsevier, who claims Alexandria University as one his affiliations. I also include some comments about a strong collaborator and former co-editor Ji-Huan He, chief editor of the International Journal of Nonlinear Sciences and Numerical Simulation, the journal with the highest Impact Factor in the mathematical sciences.
I would like to encourage you to read these comments and to follow the links in order to fully appreciate the scandalous and farcical degree of manipulation of citation indices. It seems to me that a watershed point has now been reached and that the mathematical community must make this information known to our respective university management teams. It is the mathematical community who uniquely possess the appropriate expertise to both appraise the true nature of this "highly cited" work and to question the statistical significance of citation indices and university rankings.
School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics
Citation Manipulation in 2010 Times Higher Education World University Rankings
In the recently published THE World Rankings Alexandria University has been ranked in joint 147th place. This university didn't appear in last year's THE-QS list of institutions with rank <600. This year, 32% of the THE ranking comes from the research-influence category as measured by citation data provided by Thomson-Reuters. In this category, Alexandria University is ranked 4th behind Cal Tech, MIT and Princeton:
It is worth examining this list to see a number of other surprising universities in the "top 20" e.g. Hong Kong Baptist University 12th and Bilkent University, Turkey at 19th.
On the other hand, the world ranking of Alexandria University according to webometrics is 5882 (11th in Egypt), see:
The anomalous performance of Alexandria University has been commented upon by Times Higher Education itself in a web article on 16 September 2010:
This article is worth reading and also some of the follow-up comments from readers. Quoting from the article:
Alexandria University is Egypt's only representative in the global top 200, in joint 147th place.
Its position, rubbing shoulders with the world's elite, is down to an exceptional score of 99.8 in the "research-influence" category, which is virtually on a par with Harvard University.
Alexandria, which counts Ahmed H. Zewail, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, among its alumni, clearly produces some strong research. But it is a cluster of highly cited papers in theoretical physics and mathematics - and more controversially, the high output from one scholar in one journal - that gives it such a high score.
Mr Pratt (a project manager for institutional research at Thomson Reuters - my insertion here) said: "The citation rates for papers in these fields may not appear exceptional when looking at unmodified citation counts; however, they are as high as 40 times the benchmark for similar papers."
The effect of this is particularly strong given the relatively low number of papers the university publishes overall.
The single author referred to in this article is Mohamed El Naschie who has been involved in a scandal in the mathematical sciences over the past few years. This involves the journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals (CSF) published by Elsevier of which El Naschie is the founding editor:
He has used the journal for publishing his own ideas in theoretical physics (based on numerology) under a variety of affiliations including Alexandria University and other fictitious ones. Elsevier removed him as editor in Jan 09. He has also been barred from posting preprints on the universally-used ArXiv
By self-referencing, El Naschie managed at one stage to construct a h-index of 30. His work has been highlighted by Thompson Scientific in their "What's hot in Science?" several times e.g.
As a result, CSF managed to achieve the 5th highest IF of 3.025 in all of the mathematical sciences in 2008.
It is not clear what status El Naschie actually has at Alexandria University. I cannot find him on their mathematics, physics or computing faculty web sites. Neither is there any mention of him on the Alexandria University list of publications at
The journal with the Highest Impact Factor in the mathematical sciences is another very dubious publication, the International Journal of Nonlinear Sciences and Numerical Simulation (IJNSNS)
Impact Factor: 8.479 in 2008 and 5.276 in 2009.
This is edited by a Ji-Huan He based at Shanghai Donghua University (a textile university ranked by TH-QS in 2009 at 161st in China). He was formerly a co-editor of Chaos, Solitons and Fractals and El Naschi was a co-editor of IJNSNS. They have each published heavily in the other's journal. He also edited one particular conference proceedings containing 294 citations to IJNSNS and 353 citations to He himself. These citations contributed to more than 20% of the impact factor for the journal. Thomson-Reuters have also singled out He as a rising star e.g.
There are two very interesting articles "Impact-factors" and "Integrity under attack" on these matters written by Douglas N. Arnold, McKnight Presidential Professor of Mathematics at the University of Minnesota and current President of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). These can be found on his home page
The article "Integrity under attack" appeared in SIAM News in Dec 2009:
where Arnold discusses the behaviour of He and El Naschie. The article "Impact-factors" appears to be a blog article giving a detailed analysis of the journal IJNSNS and the way in which the impact factor has been manipulated to an extraordinary degree.
As many of you know, the use of bibliometrics also been severely criticised by an international high-level panel of mathematicians and statisticians in a recent report:
Amongst other things, the report criticises the predictive accuracy of indices such as the IF or h-index and argues that one is essentially inventing a number that measures very little. As an example, the report highlights the danger of drawing inferences about the relative significance (e.g. as measured by the citation rate) of two individual papers appearing in two journals with different impact factor. In drawing a conclusion from any measurement you need to have some handle on the confidence level i.e. what is the probability of your conclusion being wrong on the basis of your measured data. This kind of analysis is completely absent in the impact factor or h-index. Likewise a good researcher may have a high h-index but a researcher with a high h-index may not be a good researcher (as above). However, the article does not address the issue of author/journal misbehaviour.
It is disheartening that peer-reviewed published research work normally based on rigourous, time-consuming and thorough analysis should be judged by such careless methods. If you were to predict the success rate of a new medical procedure or drug based on these methods you would soon end up in the court! It is now clear from the above examples that citation metrics can be manipulated to the point of being meaningless. Furthermore, the 2010 THE World Ranking situation has now brought this matter to a head where I believe we must seriously question the objective value of such ranking tables.
Thanks to Shrink for forwarding this interesting item.