Self-citation at MDPI and Frontiers

Are MDPI and Frontiers using "special issues" to load citations into their portfolios?

People have been writing me the past year or two wondering how and why MDPI and Frontiers have experienced explosive growth in their impact factors (IFs). It doesn’t, they assert, seem to be due to impressive science, sterling reputations, innovative publication practices, or breakthrough findings.

Naturally, people are puzzled. Increases in impact are usually explicable.

Speculation has included the idea that perhaps these publishers work harder to get authors to promote their articles, driving awareness, which drives citation. Or they have obtained some dark SEO magic. But none of the ideas seemed plausible.

Using data gathered in January and analyzed this past weekend, it appears that both MDPI and Frontiers have moved aggressively into a mode of self-citation at the publisher/portfolio level. And it may have something to do with their “special issues” programs.

Self-citation is usually measured at the journal level. Shifting the view to the publisher level may reveal efforts across a portfolio to drive self-citation in a way that’s harder to detect using a more typical approach.

With Frontiers’ portfolio now showing a self-citation rate just above 50% and MDPI’s showing a self-citation rate approaching 25% and rising, it’s tempting to think that something is going on.