Too Much Self-Citation?

Oxford professor questions LSU scholar's articles -- published in a journal he edited.

February 26, 2015

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. 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 Matson, Bishop did give her permission to be added to the board.

Bishop then looked into the journals, setting out her resulting claims in a blog posting, including that Matson is an author on more than 10 percent of the papers published in RASD since the journal 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).

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

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

Matson told Times Higher Education that he stood down for health reasons, adding that “anytime a new editor comes in they bring their own associate editors.” Responding to 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 -- were 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 a single 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,” Matson said. “I am not aware of any standard regarding self-citations [and] I think the numbers cited [by] 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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