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Self-citations as strategic response to the use of metrics for career decisions


  • Seeber, Marco
  • Cattaneo, Mattia
  • Meoli, Michele
  • Malighetti, Paolo


There is limited knowledge on the extent to which scientists may strategically respond to metrics by adopting questionable practices, namely practices that challenge the scientific ethos, and the individual and contextual factors that affect their likelihood. This article aims to fill these gaps by studying the opportunistic use of self-citations, i.e. citations of one’s own work to boost metric scores. Based on sociological and economic literature exploring the factors driving scientists’ behaviour, we develop hypotheses on the predictors of strategic increase in self-citations. We test the hypotheses in the Italian Higher Education system, where promotion to professorial positions is regulated by a national habilitation procedure that considers the number of publications and citations received. The sample includes 886 scientists from four of science’s main disciplinary sectors, employs different metrics approaches, and covers an observation period beginning in 2002 and ending in 2014. We find that the introduction of a regulation that links the possibility of career advancement to the number of citations received is related to a strong and significant increase in self-citations among scientists who can benefit the most from increasing citations, namely assistant professors, associate professors and relatively less cited scientists, and in particular among social scientists. Our findings suggest that while metrics are introduced to spur virtuous behaviours, when not properly designed they favour the usage of questionable practices.

Suggested Citation

  • Seeber, Marco & Cattaneo, Mattia & Meoli, Michele & Malighetti, Paolo, 2019. "Self-citations as strategic response to the use of metrics for career decisions," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 478-491.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:respol:v:48:y:2019:i:2:p:478-491
    DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2017.12.004

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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:respol:v:48:y:2019:i:6:p:1513-1522 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. van Dalen, Harry, 2019. "Values of economists matter in the art and science of economics," Other publications TiSEM eb9877cc-e840-4625-bcee-9, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.


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