Journal editor’s self-citation rate under scrutiny

Oxford blogger publishes citation count for autism expert, who ran two Elsevier titles

February 26, 2015

Source: Alamy Montage

Citation, citation, citation: psychology professor says all his papers were reviewed by ‘several’ associate editors

A senior psychology professor has strongly denied any wrongdoing, after a blog highlighted what it claimed was his high self-citation rate in papers published in journals he edited.

Johnny Matson, a professor at Louisiana State University and an expert in autism, was the founding editor-in-chief of the Elsevier journals Research in Developmental Disabilities (RIDD) and Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders (RASD).

Earlier this month the journals came to the attention of Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford. Professor Bishop learned that she was on the editorial board of RASD, although she said that she had no recollection of agreeing to such a position. According to Professor Matson, Professor Bishop did give her permission to be added to the board.

Professor Bishop then looked into the journals, setting out her resulting claims in a blog posting, including that Professor Matson is an author on more than 10 per cent of the papers published since RASD was established in 2007. At around that time his citation count also began to shoot up (according to the Scopus database, he has published 117 papers in RASD and 133 in RIDD, founded in 1987).

Professor Bishop also claims that, according to Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science, just over half of Professor Matson’s citations are self-citations – much higher than other autism experts she looked at.

In a comment under the blog, Michael Osuch, publishing director for neuroscience and psychology journals at Elsevier, insists that under Professor Matson’s editorship all papers in both journals were reviewed, and that his own were handled by one of the journals’ associate editors. He adds that Professor Matson and all associate editors stepped down at the end of 2014.

Professor Matson told Times Higher Education that he had stood down for health reasons, adding that “any time a new editor comes in they bring their own associate editors”. Responding to Professor Bishop’s claim that some of his associate editors were “relatively junior, with close links to [him]”, he said that all his papers had been reviewed by “several” associate editors.

He said that “substantial numbers” of his nearly 800 papers – all of which had similar levels of self-citation – had been published in journals that he did not edit. This “debunked” any suggestion that he had been given an “easy ride” by RIDD and RASD, he added, noting that others in his field had also published more than 100 papers in one journal.

A high citation count would have “no particular value” for him given his seniority, he said. Many of his papers built on his previous work, but he also cited other researchers “at high rates”.

“This issue is one, from my perspective, of giving credit,” Professor Matson said. “I am not aware of any standard regarding self-citations [and] I think the numbers cited [by Professor] Bishop…may be inflated.”

He also said: “I have been a professor for over 30 years and have never had my integrity questioned before.

“You will always have critics, but…the journals are held in very high regard by the vast majority of researchers in the field.”

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