Robert Sternberg, editor-in-chief of Perspectives on Psychological Science (PoPS), published 7 papers in PoPS in the last 2 years. The papers contain 351 references; 161 of these references (46%) are self-citations. This pattern doesn’t seem limited to his papers published in Perspectives: 51 of the 66 references (77%) in a recent paper on intelligence1 are self-citations as well.
Let’s take a step back. PoPS is a very prestigious journal of the Association for Psychological Science, with a current impact factor of about 10. The current editor-in-chief is Robert Sternberg, an eminent and widely known psychologist and psychometrician.
A few months ago, in December 2017, Sanjay Srivastava pointed out that Sternberg had cited himself 37 times in a paper he had published in Perspectives.
This here is the paper in question, entitled “Some Lessons From a Symposium on Cultural Psychological Science”. I did a recount, and find 40 self-citations, out of 97 total citations (41%).
Today, a new issue of Perspectives was published, and I noticed that Sternberg has a new piece with the title “The Scientific Work We Love: A Duplex Theory of Scientific Impact and Its Application to the Top-Cited Articles in the First 30 Years of APS Journals”; 23 of the 59 citations are self-citations (39%). In the piece, Sternberg actually gives advice on how to produce “work that will have the highest impact and receive the most citations”. I took the liberty to highlight some key components to this success.
Because this is the second paper of Sternberg I encountered within a short period of time with a stunning self-citation ratio, I looked at his other papers published in Perspectives from 2016-2018, and found 7 papers.
Here is some basic R-code, I’m too tired to make figures now, but the results should speak for themselves.
# 7 papers self <- c(23, 23, 10, 40, 17, 11, 37) #number of self citations per paper total <- c(38, 59, 16, 97, 39, 17, 85) #number of total citations per paper net <- self/total mean(net) #0.51 median(net) #0.44 sum(self) #161 sum(total) #351 sum(self)/sum(total) #0.46
Of the 351 citations across the 7 Perspectives pieces, 161 (46%) are self-citations.
This is just a very small selection of papers, and obviously I’m not drawing any inference beyond this small selection of papers. But the selection is meaningful in that it contains all his work published in the last 2 years in the journal he runs2. Across these articles, a consistent pattern emerges regarding the relationship between self-citations to total references: 23/38 (61%), 23/59 (39%), 10/16 (63%), 17/39 (41%), 11/17 (65%), and 37/85 (44%)3. The self-citation rate was never below 39%.
Reference lists like this one are not uncommon:
Update May 7th 2018: A lot has happened in the last month. A few days after my blog post, a large group of psychologists, spearheaded by Chris Crandall, wrote an open letter to APS pointing out issues with Sternberg’s editorial practices. A few days later, Nick Brown blogged about severe cases of self-plagiarism in Sternberg’s papers. On April 30th, Sternberg retired from his position as Editor in Chief at PoPS, after putting out a statement.
Update June 6th 2018: The first Sternberg paper has been retracted due to self-plagiarism, or as the journal put it: “for reasons of redundant publication”. The journal further writes: “Although the content in the aforementioned article is scientifically valid, the article has substantial unreferenced overlap with the following works by the same author”.
- To obtain the papers, I searched Sternberg’s google scholar profile by time & publication outlet; if I missed any articles, please let me know.
- I hope there are no mistakes; I counted every value twice, but I’ve had 2 glasses of orange juice AND a cup of black tea, so someone might want to double-check.
- zip file, WordPress doesn’t like .R files.