Earlier this week, in a story by Richard van Noorden, Nature revealed the hidden workings of a scheme referred to as “citation stacking” that has landed a number of journals in trouble. The story begins:
Mauricio Rocha-e-Silva thought that he had spotted an easy way to raise the profiles of Brazilian journals. From 2009, he and several other editors published articles containing hundreds of references to papers in each others’ journals — in order, he says, to elevate the journals’ impact factors.
As Nature reports, Rocha-e-Silva was apparently frustrated that Brazilian government agencies were relying heavily on impact factor to evaluate graduate programs. That meant few scientists were willing to publish in Brazilian journals, which had lower impact factors. Rocha-e-Silva describes some of these frustrations in an impassioned 2009 editorial (in Portuguese).
The citation stacking plan was discovered, however, by Thomson Reuters, which determines impact factors, and fourteen journals — including the one Rocha-e-Silva edited until he was fired following the incident — have been punished with suspensions of their impact factors for a year.
The two retracted articles both appeared in Progress in Biochemistry and Biophysics in 2012 and included a lot of references to Science China Life Sciences. Both of those journals, as it turns out, were sanctioned by Thomson Scientific for citation manipulation in 2011, but not in 2012.
Here’s the notice:
The following two papers published in Progress in Biochemistry and Biophysics have some improper citations. Here, at the request of the authors, we declare to retract these two papers:
 Science China: life science in reform in retrospect on progresses in 2010～2011. Progress in Biochemistry and Biophysics, 2012, 39(11): 1066-1072
 Science China Life Sciences in 2011: a retrospect. Progress in Biochemistry and Biophysics, 2012, 39(12): 1181-1189
Editorial Office of Progress in Biochemistry and Biophysics 2013-07-02
One of the articles still seems to be available online.
This isn’t the first case of retraction for citation manipulation. Last year, we reported on two others, from the Scientific World Journal. Those cases, and the whole notion of “citation cartels,” were discovered by Phil Davis.