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There is something odd about the December 2008 issue of Chaos, Solitons & Fractals, an Elsevier journal covering topics in mathematics, physics, and engineering.  Five of the articles are written by the editor, Mohamed El Naschie.

This did not go unnoticed in the academic community.

The Case of M. S. El Naschie was posted on The n-Category Café, a community blog on math, physics, and philosophy by mathematical physicist, John Baez, and has attracted significant discussion and inquiry such as:

  • Can someone really produce as much literature as El Naschie?  There are over 300 single-authored articles in Chaos, Solitons & Fractals attributed to him.
  • Do his papers even make sense?
  • Why does the publisher allow El Naschie to use the journal as his personal vehicle for dissemination?
  • Is Professor Mohamed El Naschie who he said he is?  Are his credentials legitimate?

What is interesting about the discussion is that El Naschie hasn’t done anything explicitly wrong.  I know of no journal that has a limit on how many articles it will publish per author and it is natural that some scientists produce much more literature than others.  I also know of several editors who publish their own work in their own journals, often placing their articles higher in the publication order.  There have been no claims that El Naschie has plagiarized the work of others, and because his work is not based on experimental observation, no one has made allegations that he has fabricated data.

El Naschie is clearly a highly-cited author.  Using ISI’s Web of Science, I counted 3,049 citations to his work, although 2,497 (or 82%) are self-citations.  Since almost all of his work (indexed by ISI) is published in Chaos, Solitons & Fractals, this creates a significant upward bias on the Impact Factor of this journal. [see Correction below]

Some people posting on The n-Category Café claim that his articles make no sense and are full of trendy buzzwords.  Others, coming to El Naschie’s defense claim that he is a genius and simply misunderstood by his peers. I’m no mathematician, so I can’t arbitrate these claims.

A more substantive comment questions how much oversight the publisher should have on this journal and whether the practices of the editor, functioning as author, is harming the reputation of this journal.

Another stream of posts questions the credentials of Mohamed El Naschie, why some of his titles and awards cannot be verified, and why he resorts to a P.O. box in the United Kingdom as his address.  Peers also questioned how El Naschie promotes himself on his website, with prominent photos of himself posing with Nobel Laureates in Physics, or self-promotional videos posted on YouTube.  Clearly this is an academic who takes himself very seriously.

While El Naschie may have not done anything explicitly wrong by publishing five of his own articles in a journal to which he is editor, he may have broken several implicit and unwritten norms in academia.  As a result, his peers have started questioning his work, his motives, and even his identity.

Correction [date: February 12, 2009]:

The self-citation rate printed in this blog suffers from a miscalculation:   The self-citation percentage (defined as the number of El Naschie authored articles that cite his own work as a fraction of the total number of articles that cite El Naschie’s work) is 32%, or 263/821.  Estimates that count the proportion of self-citations as a proportion of total citations results in approximately the same answer.  These errors were inadvertent and entirely mine.  I sincerely appologize to Dr. El Naschie and anyone else who was affected by this miscalculation.

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Phil Davis

Phil Davis

Phil Davis is an independent researcher and publishing consultant specializing in the statistical analysis of citation, readership, publication and survey data. He has a Ph.D. in science communication from Cornell University (2010), extensive experience as a science librarian (1995-2006) and was trained as a life scientist. His research has focused on the on the dissemination of scientific information, rewards and incentives in academic publishing, and economic issues related to libraries, authors and publishers.

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26 Thoughts on "Elsevier Math Editor Controversy"

While El Naschie may have not done anything explicitly wrong by publishing five of his own articles in a journal to which he is editor…

The problem is not that he published 5 articles in his own journal. The problem is that he’s published over 300 articles in his own journal since 1993. I only mentioned the fact that he has 5 papers in the most recent issue to illustrate the rate at which he’s self-publishing.

The bigger problem is that these articles make no sense. Let’s take a random example. The latest edition of his journal includes his paper “Fuzzy multi-instanton knots in the fabric of spacetime and Dirac’s vacuum fluctuation”. This contains a table showing “results of ingeniously simple actual experiments with flexible rope with various thicknesses and lengths”, and claims: “The tying of a knot in the rope shortens the end to end length. This reduction can be used to measure the so called open thickness energy of knots. There is an incredible correlation between this energy and particle physics.”

This is either the most incredible discovery in particle physics over the last 100 years, or it’s… simply not credible.

And, the really big problem is that hundreds of university libraries have to pay large sums of money for El Naschie’s journal, since it’s part of a big ‘bundle’ of journals published by Elsevier — they try to make it impossible to dump a single journal. An individual subscription to his journal costs about $4500.

So, a lot of people are paying a lot of money to indulge El Naschie’s habits.

  • John Baez
  • Nov 25, 2008, 12:15 PM

Someone noted a single case of self plagiarism with Naschie, do you think there could be a bunch more, like in the emerald case? If I have time in Dec, I might investigate to see if there is more. Did you have a method in the emerald case? Do phrase searching on the second sentence of the 4th paragraph, or whatever?

  • Joe Kraus
  • Nov 26, 2008, 12:38 AM

With so many articles, it may be easier to use a program like, especially if the duplicate text is small and selective.

Before you begin, it might be reasonable to ask what could be accomplished from this exercise since reuse of one’s own text may not be considered scientific misconduct, especially if it is referenced (and El Naschie is a heavy self-citer).

In the case of Emerald, it was the publisher who was engaging in systematic and covert duplication of entire articles [1,2]. The fact that Emerald did not acknowledge that they were republishing articles (or publishing articles simultaneously in multiple journals) makes this a different case. What El Naschie appears to be doing is completely transparent to the reader, which is not like Emerald.

[1] The Ethics of Republishing: A Case Study of Emerald/MCB University Press Journals. Library Resources & Technical Services, (2005) v49 n2, 72-78.

[2] Article duplication in Emerald/MCB journals is more extensive than first reported: Possible conflicts of financial and functional interests are uncovered. Library Resources & Technical Services, 49(3), 138-150.

  • Philip Davis
  • Nov 26, 2008, 10:40 AM

Philip/Joe, is the corporate alternative to iParadigms expanded product offerings four years ago when the World Health Organization sought a plagiarism/duplication screening technology. Today, CrossCheck (powered by iThenticate) is seeing rapid adoption among publishers in the STM community. iThenticate also has users in just about any industry you can imagine.

  • Robert Creutz
  • Nov 26, 2008, 3:57 PM

The master of this blog should be commended on its objectivity, balanced comments and integrity. This is something which I do not say lightly because like my good friend Gerrardus, I dislike blogs intensely. The normal blog encourages a herd mentality. It is full of jokes of a certain standard and the best argument is booing people down. There is hardly ever any scientific content and the owners of the blogs have the first and the last shout. The correctness of an argument is more often than not based upon majority voting. However unlike a society, science is intrinsically aristocratic. Paradoxically this aristocracy can only live in popular democracies. It sounds like a contradiction but it is not. It is more or less like deterministic chaos. It really means something and looks like the beautiful Mandelbrot picture which adorns this site. Not many people with the name Philip Davis would give a man with a name Mohamed El Naschie a fair hearing. It is only the humanity and intelligence of people of that mould which created the phenomenon of our century, Barack Hussein Obama.

  • Shimon
  • Nov 27, 2008, 3:41 PM

Dear Colleagues:

According to our record this blog is run and managed by a respectable crew who do not allow defamation and the use of inappropriate language in scientific discussions. For this reason, the Editorial Board of Chaos, Solitons and Fractals will use this blog to give you the first reaction to the article published in Nature, 27 November 2008 by Quirin Schiermeier. It is the view of the Editorial Board that the article contains serious errors of fact as well as libelous material. Already the title is libelous. In addition, the legend of the figure is misleading and libelous. More importantly, Prof. El Naschie is a Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Science in the University of Frankfurt. Not only that but he is also a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies also in the University of Frankfurt. Prof. Dr. dr. W. Greiner denies ever saying anything to the contrary. He described what has been mentioned regarding his wish to be taken off the Editorial Board of Chaos, Solitons & Fractals as nonsense and complete fabrication. On the contrary, he has written a letter saying that it is his Journal as much as it is the Journal of the Editorial Board. We cannot say the names yet but there are people who have intentionally misled and misinformed Mr. Schiermeier and that he fell a victim to an elaborate conspiracy. Also, we have to add that the article departed from the truth regarding many statements and we are not at liberty to mention this in detail for legal reasons. You can rest assured that the Editorial Board has already taken legal steps, the outcome of which will either be a retraction and an apology from Nature and the Journalist or a court case in Germany and in England. We advise you that the two persons whose names were mentioned in the article, namely Peter Woit and Zoran Skoda know very little, if anything, about nonlinear dynamics and fractals. It is just like asking a stamp collector about his knowledge of the physics of the colors of stamps he so much likes.

Thank you for your patience and for reading these lines.

  • A.M.
  • Nov 28, 2008, 5:31 PM

More importantly, Prof. El Naschie is a Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Science in the University of Frankfurt.

I am looking forward to the court hearing that proves this! It will be interesting.

  • Stefan
  • Nov 29, 2008, 9:51 AM

It certainly is odd, to say the least, that the online catalog of the library of the University of London, from where MS El Naschie claims to have got a PhD in 1974, has no record of any PhD awarded to someone with that or a similar surname, in any year. The so-called Professor has more to prove than an affiliation with the University of Frankfurt.

  • peter
  • Nov 30, 2008, 2:19 PM

I always wondered why the impact factor of that journal was higher than the other, much better nonlinear dynamics journal out there. This is my home field, and there are half a dozen or more (probably a dozen or more, but I don’t feel like being systematic at the moment) specialized venues covering essentially the same topics (forgetting journals with wider coverage areas for a second) where I would preferably send my own work. For those other journals, I take a look at what new articles come out regularly because I take it as a matter of course that I’ll be interested in some of it. For Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals, on the other hand, I only bother to go and look if directed to a specific article.

  • Mason
  • Feb 16, 2009, 5:03 PM

This is very interesting. I am a reference librarian. Several years ago, around 2000-2001, I noticed new periodical titles (which seemed to have been around for a decade or more, bearing corresponding volume and issues numbers) that I had never heard of. I became suspicious because those periodicals seemed to have a “point of view” that was contrary, or at variance with established scientific knowledge. I wondered if these might be bogus, but dismissed my doubts as … paranoia. After all if these journals had been around for this long, they must be legit, right?

  • Suspicious Librarian
  • May 24, 2010, 12:43 PM

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