BackgroundAuthor self-citation is the practice of citing one's previous publications in a new publication. Its extent is unknown. We studied author self-citation, choosing the major clinical field of diabetes mellitus to represent the general medical literature.
MethodsWe identified every article about diabetes mellitus in 170 hand-searched clinical journals published in 2000. For every article, we recorded the bibliographic citation and publication type (original or review article) and assessed the methodologic rigour. Citation information was obtained from the ISI Web of Knowledge in April 2003.
ResultsOf 49,028 articles, 289 were about diabetes mellitus and had citation information. Citation counts ranged from 0 to 347 (median 6, interquartile range [IQR] 2-12). Author self-citation counts ranged from 0 to 16 (median 1, IQR 0-2). Author self-citations accounted for an average of 18% (95% confidence interval [CI] 15%-21%) and a median of 7% (95% CI 5%- 11%) of all citations of each publication that was cited at least once (n = 266). Original articles had double the mean proportion of author self-citations compared with review articles (19% v. 9%; median 7% v. 0%, difference 7%, 95% CI 0- 10%). Methodologic rigour and review type were not significantly associated with subsequent author self-citation.
InterpretationNearly one-fifth of all citations to articles about diabetes mellitus in clinical journals in the year 2000 were author self-citations. The frequency of self-citation was not associated with the quality of publications. These findings are likely applicable to the general clinical medicine literature and may have important implications for the assessment of journal or publication importance and the process of scientific discovery.