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### Penalizing Scientific Misconduct in Ranking Scores: A Necessary Measure?

Global

Although worldwide university rankings are extremely popular, they are not without criticism. While these rankings can be valuable for institutions to strategize future enhancements, the issue arises when the rankings are primarily used for promotional purposes to attract more students. The absence of a tool that evaluates a university’s overall performance is also a concern.

Historically, academic and research institutions have always been subject to ranking. Identifying the top university globally, whether it be Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, or MIT, has never been a challenge, regardless of the presence of ranking systems like Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) or Times Higher Education (THE).

However, it is unacceptable if these rankings are solely utilized for branding purposes, disregarding the crucial role universities play as centers of learning in advancing knowledge, wisdom, and ethical standards.

Despite ongoing criticism regarding the methodological flaws in rankings, academic institutions are enticed to secure higher positions in these rankings.

Consequently, a multitude of universities worldwide partake in rankings annually. Entities like QS and THE utilize similar quantitative metrics such as teaching reputation, academic staff-student ratio, doctoral-bachelor student ratio, publication counts, citation metrics, international staff and student ratios, global collaborations, and knowledge transfer for practical applications.

These indicators generate scores based on specific quantifiable criteria, neglecting the qualitative aspects of many universities with unique contexts differing from those devising the esteemed international rankings. Each university is evaluated based on its performance in these selected indicators.

Publishing Pressure

At the lower end of the ranking competition, academics are compelled to enhance their research output, particularly in publications and citations. Pursuing higher publication and citation numbers has been shown to compromise the genuineness and integrity of academic endeavors.

Recent revelations of over 10,000 retractions in 2023 due to various forms of scientific misconduct, including compromised peer reviews, have shocked the academic community.

Moreover, abnormal trends of self-citation to bolster research impact have been exposed.

Addressing Unethical Practices

The need to address unethical practices in academia and science has become increasingly urgent. To combat these issues, a proactive approach inspired by the principle ‘like is cured by like’ may be beneficial.

While the drive for higher rankings may incentivize unethical behaviors to inflate publication and citation counts, implementing penalties for such misconduct could act as a deterrent and introduce accountability into the ranking race.

In essence, incorporating negative scoring for activities that undermine the integrity of scientific pursuits into global university rankings could serve as a corrective measure. For example, universities could lose credit for publications associated with scientific misconduct or anomalous self-citations.

This approach would prompt policymakers to reconsider pressuring researchers to prioritize quantity over quality in publications and citations.

Reinstating Confidence

Establishing the mechanisms and criteria for implementing negative scoring requires meticulous consideration of various factors, including the creation of databases to track retractions and self-citations. Determining the appropriate weightage for negative scoring also demands careful evaluation.

Collaborating with platforms like Retraction Watch could facilitate the incorporation of negative scoring into ranking systems. Achieving consensus on the weightage of negative indicators is feasible, given that ranking bodies already assign varying weights to different criteria.

Addressing scientific misconduct promptly is crucial to preserving trust in science and upholding the integrity of research endeavors.

Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman, a professor in the faculty of dentistry and associate dean (continuing education) at Universiti Malaya, Malaysia, advocates for addressing scientific misconduct effectively.