Obsessed with getting cited? You may have “Publiphilia Impactfactorius”

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Joeri Tijdink

As a scientist, are you always focused on improving your metrics by such means as getting papers into prestigious journals? Do your funders and institutions add to that pressure to get ahead? If so, you may be at risk of a new psychiatric condition known as “Publiphilia Impactfactorius” — or, simply, PI, described in a PeerJ preprint. We talked to first author Joeri Tijdink at VU Medical Center (VUmc) in Amsterdam about this tongue-in-cheek take-down of the scientific condition, and whether there is any cure for the affliction.

Retraction Watch: You describe several new personality traits and clusters. Tell us more about this.

Joeri Tijdink: We have studied personality traits (narcissism, psychopathy, self-esteem, Machiavellianism) in 535 biomedical scientists and associated these traits with research misbehaviors. These results are published in a serious publication here.

From a psychiatric perspective (I am a psychiatrist), I felt that from my observations of the research culture there are several personality subtypes of scientists that may show (pseudo)psychiatric symptoms and traits. However, I was unable to classify these individuals in a formal psychiatric classification. Therefore, we have conducted a cluster analysis and found 3 different personality clusters with specific features. We named them after their personality profile and features; the sneaky grandiose, the perfectionists and the ideal sons-in-law.

Sneaky grandiose are narcissistic psychopathic professors with high scores on research misbehaviors, perfectionists are Machiavellianistic neurotics with high achievement standards and ideal sons-in-law have low narcissistic and Machiavellianistic traits, are self-confident and successful individuals with a High H-index.

RW: Roughly one-third of your sample of scientists fell into the “sneaky grandiose” category, which you believe are more likely to engage in research misconduct. What does that say about scientists in general?

JT: Good question. We can only hypothesize, but it may imply that there is a subtype of scientists that have sneaky grandiose traits that get more easily involved in undesirable research practices (I wouldn’t call it research misconduct). Still, I firmly believe that the majority of scientists is good hearted, sincere, honest and very honorable.

RW: You say a small percentage of “sneaky grandiose” scientists likely suffer from “a psychiatric condition characterized by pathological preoccupation with publishing and being cited,” which you term a syndrome called Publiphilia Impactfactorius (PI). Is Publiphilia Impactfactorius contagious? Is there a treatment or cure?

JT: Publiphilia is highly contagious. Due to the fact that most patients set the tone for younger scientists they supervise, they serve as examples. Young students that are supervised by PIs copy their bad behaviors and traits. This makes it highly contagious. And don’t underestimate the genetic heredity. The good news is that there is only a small proportion of scientists that can be classified with this severe syndrome. You should be aware that Publiphilia is only the pathognomonic end of the sneaky grandiose continuum.

RW: How can hiring institutions use the results of your survey to guide their decisions?

JT: Institutions will surely prefer to select and hire scientists that belong to the ideal son-in-law cluster. They are the ideal scientists that can lead and inspire a research group and foster responsible research practices. They care, they listen, they are good role models. The easiest way to select them in hiring procedures in institutions is to bring mothers-in-law to the job interviews. They are the perfect diagnostic instrument for selection of this cluster.

RW: You report a 65% response rate to your survey, and a 49% completion rate. Those seem high. Do you attribute this to high levels of narcissism among your sample?

JT: It is no secret that narcissists are keen on their narcissism, but this may not be the full reason for this high response rate. It is also due to the considerable amount of perfectionists in the sample. Their neuroticism oblige them to finish tasks. They are unable to accept incomplete tasks such as an outstanding survey.

RW: Was the author order on this paper determined by H-index, given your apparent obsession with this metric?

JT: The H-index is a very bad proxy for scientific quality but indeed a good proxy for Publiphilia. So yes, the authors order was based on symptom severity of Publiphilia. Unfortunately, the H-index of the first author is relatively low. We hope that with this interview and preprint we will be able to influence his H-index.

RW: We note that you failed to cite at least one earlier paper on “Impact Factor mania.” We’re sure there’s some justification for this, so please provide it.

JT: We are aware of this psychiatric condition. However, this classification has no formal description of symptoms and although we do acknowledge this type of mania, we feel that this is so common in science that we would consider this mental state as normal in scientists.

RW: We have heard that you have applied for a patent on a test for “sneaky grandiose” personality, and that a company plans to license your test. Yet your disclosures only include a vague mention of a “wellness centre for Principal Investigators suffering from Publiphilia Impactfactorius.” Can you comment?

JT: No comment. Being too outspoken about the classification and treatment options, this may be judged as financial conflict of interest. We would only like to stress that the PI syndrome has no cure, but intensive palliative care is crucial to fight the most severe symptoms and support the family and loved ones.

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