In what appears to be a first, two papers have been retracted for including citations designed to help another journal improve its impact factor rankings. The articles in The Scientific World Journal cited papers in Cell Transplantation, which in turn appears to have cited to a high degree other journals with shared board members.
Here’s publisher Hindawi’s statement on the matter, which involved their publication The Scientific World Journal:
Statement Regarding Two Cases of Citation Manipulation
It has been brought to the attention of The Scientific World Journal that two articles which were previously published in the journal (“A Showcase of Bench-to-Bedside Regenerative Medicine at the 2010 ASNTR” and “Regenerative Medicine for Neurological Disorders”) included a large number of references whose primary purpose was to manipulate the citation record. These articles have both been retracted on the basis that they violate The Scientific World Journal’s policy against citation manipulation, and the corresponding sanctions have been imposed against the authors of these articles.
The Editorial Board Member who was responsible for the evaluation of these articles does appear to have been involved in facilitating this citation manipulation, however neither the journal’s former publisher nor any of the other Editorial Board Members of the journal were found to have been involved in knowingly facilitating this citation manipulation. The Editor who handled these manuscripts is no longer a member of The Scientific World Journal’s Editorial Board, and the sanctions described in the journal’s policy against citation manipulation have been applied to him as well for his role in facilitating this citation manipulation.
Self-citation at journals — in which papers cite other recent articles in the journal to boost the title’s impact factor, a measure of how often, on average, studies are cited in the previous two years — is a well-described phenomenon. Those who get caught practicing it are barred from Thomson Reuters’ Journal Citation Reports, a ranking of titles by impact factor.
In fact, the timing of these two retractions seems to be linked to The Scientific World Journal‘s having been excluded from 2011’s Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports for behavior with similar goals but that is even more difficult to detect — being part of a “citation cartel.” (Disclosure: Ivan works at Thomson Reuters, in a completely different division from the one that produces the JCR.)
Phil Davis, who brought the retractions to our attention, first highlighted the behavior of The Scientific World Journal, Cell Transplantation, and a third journal, Medical Science Monitor, in an April Scholarly Kitchen post titled “The Emergence of a Citation Cartel.” In a fascinating analysis, Davis shows clear patterns of citation manipulation at the journals, which share editorial board members but not publishers. Davis reported Friday that the three journals will not receive an impact factor ranking this year, a development Richard van Noorden followed up on in the Nature News blog.
Hindawi publisher Paul Peters left this comment on both blog posts:
As the current publisher of The Scientific World Journal, which is one of the titles that was suspended from the 2011 JCR, I would like to reply to the description of this situation as a “citation cartel.” It is unfortunately true that two articles were published in The Scientific World Journal with excessive citations to the journal Cell Transplantation, which have subsequently been retracted on the grounds that they violate the journal’s Policy Against Citation Manipulation (http://www.tswj.com/policies/). These articles were both written by members of the Cell Transplantation Editorial Board, and the Editor who accepted both articles for publication in The Scientific World Journal, who later left The Scientific World Journal’s Editorial Board, is one of the Section Editors for Cell Transplantation.
While this situation (which is explained on The Scientific World Journal’s website at http://www.tswj.com/statement/) is very regrettable, it is incorrect to describe this as a “citation cartel” since there have never been any articles with excessive citations to The Scientific World Journal published in Cell Transplantation or Medical Science Monitor. It appears that a number of Editors from Cell Transplantation worked together to exploit their position on the Editorial Boards of other journals (including The Scientific World Journal) in order to boost the citation count to Cell Transplantation, but without the involvement of any other Editorial Board Members or the former publisher of The Scientific World Journal. We very much agree that better safeguards should have been in place to prevent these sort of articles from being accepted for publication, and after Hindawi took over the publication of The Scientific World Journal last year we implemented a number of changes to the editorial workflow of the journal which should prevent any similar cases from happening in the future. More recently, we developed a tool that our in-house staff currently use to check every submitted manuscript that we receive in any of our journals in order to detect possible cases of citation manipulation prior to the article being sent for peer review.
While we very much regret the fact that The Scientific World Journal will not receive an Impact Factor for the current year, we appreciate the need for Thomson Reuters to take a firm stance against any manipulation of the citation record, which is an issue that we take very seriously as a publisher.
Submitted manuscripts that are found to include citations whose primary purpose is to increase the number of citations to a given author’s work, or to articles published in a particular journal, will incur citation manipulation sanctions. The following citation manipulation sanctions will be applied:
- Immediate rejection of the infringing manuscript.
- Immediate rejection of every other manuscript submitted to any journal published by Hindawi Publishing Corporation by any of the authors of the infringing manuscript.
- Prohibition against all of the authors for any new submissions to any journal published by Hindawi Publishing Corporation, either individually or in combination with other authors of the infringing manuscript, as well as in combination with any other authors. The prohibition shall continue for three years from notice of suspension.
- Prohibition against all of the authors from serving on the Editorial Board of any journal published by Hindawi Publishing Corporation.
We asked Peters whether it was the ban that “brought [the citation manipulation] to the attention” of the publisher, and will update with anything we hear back. In the meantime, hope seems to spring eternal at the journal, which has an “Impact Factor Coming in 2013″ banner on every page.
Update, 5:30 p.m. Eastern, 7/5/12: Peters tells us:
…we became aware of these two articles from Phil Davis’ article in the Scholarly Kitchen in April. Upon learning about these two articles, we put an additional screening process in place for all of our journals to detect any similar papers in the future. Thomson Reuters contacted us a couple of days before the 2011 JCR was released to tell us that the journal would be suppressed from the Impact Factor list as the result of these two articles.