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Math Science

Crackpot Scandal In Mathematics 219

Posted by kdawson
from the kooks-we-have-always-with-us dept.
ocean_soul writes "It is well known among scientists that the impact factor of a scientific journal is not always a good indicator of the quality of the papers in the journal. An extreme example of this was recently uncovered in mathematics. The scandal is about one El Naschie, editor in chief of the 'scientific' journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, published by Elsevier. This is one of the highest impact factor journals in mathematics, but the quality of the papers in it is extremely poor. The journal has also published 322 papers with El Naschie as (co-)author, five of them in the latest issue. Like many crackpots, El Nashie has a kind of cult around him, with another journal devoted to praising his greatness. There was also a discussion about the Wikipedia entry for El Naschie, which was supposedly written by one of his followers. When it was deleted by Wikipedia, they even threatened legal actions (which never materialized)."
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Crackpot Scandal In Mathematics

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  • by saforrest (184929) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @05:52PM (#26216555) Homepage Journal

    How did El Naschie game the system?

    According to Elsevier, his impact factor is 3.025 [elsevier.com], which does seem high compared to Elsevier titles like Advances in Applied Mathematics (founded by Gian-Carlo Rota, who was a respectable mathematician).

    It's clear from the samples that El Naschie's articles are complete garbage, and I'm sure no respectable mathematician would want to publish in what's effectively a crackpot's vanity press. This is obviously the scientific journal version of Googlebombing.

    So how did he pull this off? Is he citing himself, and if so, where?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @05:53PM (#26216567)

    The problem with impact factors is that they don't measure the quality of the papers, they just measure the number of times they're referenced. The thought is that the number of times a paper is referenced is proportional to the quality. Sort of like the concept behind Google Page Rank - more inward pointing links means that the site is "better". ... Except that relying solely on incoming links doesn't work to well if people start to game the system. Google, who made it's name with the power of Page Rank, has since demoted it to "one of the factors" in determining result positioning, recognizing that simply counting incoming links leaves them wide open to manipulation. They're also ruthless about plonking anyone who is found trying to game the system. Impact factors don't have this defense - it's a straight sum-and-divide operation, with little to no adjustments or oversight.

    As I understand it, this sort of "gaming" is why crappy fringe journals sometimes get huge impact factors. What happens is, deliberately or not, the authors in those journals self-reference like crazy, jacking up the references per article count. It's like a set of websites which all link to each other extensively, but have very few incoming links from outside their clique. IIRC, Google compensates for this now, while impact factors do not.

    I've noticed a disturbing trend towards reliance on impact factors in judging the importance of work (say in tenure evaluations, etc.). The more importance people attach to such a flimsy system, the more frequently you'll hear such cases of gaming the system.

  • Re:Err... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Artefacto (1207766) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @06:00PM (#26216633)
    Nature reported this back in November: http://www.nature.com/news/2008/081126/full/456432a.html [nature.com] The news is Mohamed El Naschie is going to retire. There are some interesting statistics:

    Of the 31 papers not written by El Naschie in the most recent issue of Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, at least 11 are related to his theories and include 58 citations of his work in the journal.

    And it's actually a theoretical-physics journal, with a relatively high impact factor of 3.025 for 2007.

  • Re:Err... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jherek Carnelian (831679) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @06:00PM (#26216639)

    Where's the article?

    Second link in the summary:

    http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/category/2008/11/the_case_of_m_s_el_naschie.html [utexas.edu]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @06:04PM (#26216707)

    Pick any of this recent papers and chances are good that most of the citations are to his own past papers. So, yes, that's how he's pulling it off: he cites himself ten times or so in each of his papers, and because he writes half the papers in each issue, that inflates the impact factor.

  • Re:EL Naschie Affair (Score:5, Informative)

    by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @08:38PM (#26218221) Journal

    The Bogdanov affair is a little different. I did PhD research in theoretical physics but I was a bit unsure about the work of the Bogdanovs. There were bits of it that I could nitpick at and say it was definitely mistaken, but overall it was a little tricky to judge the bigger ideas without being a specialist in their particular subfield. The Bogdanovs had some smart people fooled. It's a very good hoax.

    El Naschie's writing looks like nonsense even to non-specialists (though I guess you still need a degree in mathematics or physics). There's no way it could fool even beginners in the areas his work covers. That makes it all the more astonishing that he survived with Elsevier for so long. Apathy I guess.

  • Re:Err... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Raenex (947668) on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @08:38PM (#26218225)

    Second link in the summary

    I really hate summaries that link bomb you and don't give you any clue which one is the main article.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Tuesday December 23, 2008 @09:12PM (#26218505)

    Citation indices like citeseer [psu.edu] distinguish self-citations from non-self-citations; if you pick some random paper that has both, you'll see a tally like "81 citations -- 7 self". Does Thomson Scientific not actually bother to do that in computing its impact factor?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2008 @02:06AM (#26220237)

    www.biomedcentral.com does exactly this.

    100's of journals. All free to access.

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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