Shine a light on journal self-citation inflation

Photo by pnc.

Photo by pnc.

Note: Welcome Inside Higher Ed readers. I’d be happy to hear accounts from disciplines other than sociology. Email me at pnc@umd.edu.

In my post on peer review the other day, I mentioned that a journal editor made this request — before she agreed to send the paper out for review:

“If possible, either in this section or later in the Introduction, note how your work builds on other studies published in our journal.”

A large survey on “coercive citation” practices, published in Science in 2012 (paywalled; bootlegged PDF) found that 20% of researchers had, in the previous five years, “received a request from an editor to add more citations
from the editor’s journal for reasons that were not based on content.” The survey, which was sent to email lists for academic associations, including the American Sociological Association, found sociologists and psychologists were less likely to report having experienced this practice than were economists and those in business-related disciplines.

The journal I named, Sex Roles, is high on the list of those most frequently mentioned — cited by four respondents, more than any journal outside of business, marketing, or economics. But there are a lot of other journals you know on the list.

Although I made the assumption that the Sex Roles editor was trying to increase the impact factor — the citation rate — for her journal, one could defend this practice as being motivated by other interests (I’ll leave that to you). It also seems likely that some requests are open to interpretation — for example, mixing in citations from different journals, or offering specific reasons for including particular citations.

Tell me about it

To look into this a little more, I’m asking you to send me requests for journal self-citation that you have received. I’ll keep them confidential, but if I get enough to make it interesting, I will post: (1) journal name, (2) the type of request, (3) the date (month and year), and (4) the stage in the publication process. Feel free to include extenuating details or other information you would like to share, and let me know if you want it disclosed. I assume most of you are sociologists, but I’ll include items from any discipline.

To be included on the list, I’ll need to see copies of the letter or email you received. I will not disclose your identity or information about you, or the specific article under review. I won’t use quotes that might identify the author or article under review.

I will also send the list to the current editors of journals named and give them an opportunity to respond.

My contact information is here.

Maybe there’s not enough here to go on, but if there is, I think shining a light on it would be a good thing, and might deter the practice in the future.

3 Comments

Filed under Me @ work

3 responses to “Shine a light on journal self-citation inflation

  1. Emily

    You might want to report timing less stringently than month and year, since authors might worry that makes them too identifiable. What about just reporting year? We will have to keep in mind that there might be different editors at a particular journal over the course of a year, but presumably the main point isn’t to focus on individual editors anyway.

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    • Good idea, thanks. No need for exact time. I have gotten a few already, and I can see that anonymizing each one will require individual attention. Happy to discuss case by case to make sure each leaker is comfortable.

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  2. Pingback: Journal self-citation practices revealed | Family Inequality

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