A new study has found that male academics are more likely than their female colleagues to cite themselves as experts. Self-citation is fine and natural, but if you do it too much, you’ll go blind.
As the Washington Post explains, being cited in an academic paper is a good thing, a marker that your work is has “authority and influence.” And sometimes, quite legitimately, people cite themselves and their own previous papers, especially in high and lonely specialities where no one else is doing the same work. But at many institutions, citation count is also a factor that’s considered in tenure and promotion offers. In other words, then, quoting oneself could be a way to jack up the number of people who appear to be citing you, to gain a professional advantage.
Who does all that self-citing, statistically? According to a new paper, authored by researchers from Stanford, the University of Washington and New York University, men are 56 percent more likely to cite themselves. That’s looking at 1.5 million papers in JSTOR, which stores academic books and papers published between, uh, 1779 and 2011.
In other words, this is less a new phenomenon than a defining feature of academia. It’s only increased over time, writes lead author Molly M. King, a PhD candidate in sociology at Stanford University. From the paper:
In the last two decades of our data, men self-cite 70% more than women. Women are also more than ten percentage points more likely than men to not cite their own previous work at all. Despite increased representation of women in academia, this gender gap in self-citation rates has remained stable over the last 50 years.
The study also found that women faculty members tend to publish fewer papers than men, but adds “Other findings emphasize that any gender differences in productivity are products of other social or institutional forces, rather than of differences in talent or intelligence.” Faculty are, for example, statistically more likely to collaborate with other faculty members of the same gender, which, given the relative underrepresentation of women in academia, puts them behind from the start. Another study King and her co-authors cite found that women tend to be tenured in “less prestigious jobs” with more teaching responsibilities, giving them less time to write.
Self-citation rates vary across academic fields, King and co. write, but there’s overall no evidence that the gender gap is decreasing over time. The Post notes that, according to the paper, one “prominent scholar” has been cited more than 7,000 times, with one-fifth of those citations being from himself. It must feel great to have your best and most trusted expert so close at hand.