Image by SantaRosa OLD SKOOL via Flickr
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.