End of science (as we once knew it)
Cliques of mathematicians at institutions in China, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere have been artificially boosting their colleagues’ citation counts by churning out low-quality papers that repeatedly reference their work, according to an unpublished analysis seen by Science. As a result, their universities—some of which do not appear to have math departments—now produce a greater number of highly cited math papers each year than schools with a strong track record in the field, such as Stanford and Princeton universities.
These so-called “citation cartels” appear to be trying to improve their universities’ rankings, according to experts in publication practices. “The stakes are high—movements in the rankings can cost or make universities tens of millions of dollars,” says Cameron Neylon, a professor of research communication at Curtin University. “It is inevitable that people will bend and break the rules to improve their standing.” In response to such practices, the publishing analytics company Clarivate has excluded the entire field of math from the most recent edition of its influential list of authors of highly cited papers, released in November 2023.
Corporations tend to choose survival over morality in the absence of countervailing power.