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Comment: Self-citations and the case of Milena Penkowa

Why did Milena Penkowa make it so far? The answer is that she published a lot and was heavily cited, argues geologist Peter Riisager. But most of the citations were self-citations

Milena Penkowa represents an interesting case of a young scientist making a fantastic career in Danish science, strongly supported by some heavy players, among them the former Minister of Science and the Rector of the University of Copenhagen.

At every possible occasion Milena Penkowa was but forward as a role model for young scientists.

Now, to the embarassement of the Danish scientific establishment, it turns out that Milena Penkowa was cheating not only with her grant money but also with her scientific works.

The central question is why did Milena Penkowa make it so far?

See Nature’s take on the Penkowa case

Fifty per cent self-citations

The answer is that she published a lot and was heavily cited.

So on almost all bibliometric measures she was an excellent scientist. However, looking at her citations one feature is very noticeable, namely the extent to which she cited herself. Out of a total of 2,401 citations listed in the Web of Science database, 1,296 are self-citations.

A lot has been written on scientific self-citations, and although I read only a very small part of this literature, I would think that red lights should be flashing for scientist that cite themselves so often that more than 50 per cent of their citations are self-citations.

I wonder why the percentage of self-citations is not generally accepted as a bibliometric parameter for funding agencies and employers, not to continue to promote self-glorifying scientist obsessed with (self-)citations?

Bad guys and good guys of science

Apparently, Milena Penkowa was so focussed on her citations, that her PC would show her citation-index whenever it was started up. I know a lot of scientists have the same obsession, and it seems unhealthy both for the individuals, as well as for science as a whole.

I checked out a few scientists within my own area of expertise and actually found the percentage of self-citations very much reflected what I thought it would.

I completely agree with the definition that good guys have self-citations 50 per cent less of total cites, and the bad guys have more than 50 per cent self-citations.

Read the University Post’s tongue-in-cheek summary of the complex Milena Penkowa case Penkowa for Dummies.

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