Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Citation manipulation: Journal retracts paper because author boosted references to a journal he edits

with 5 comments

jpdcA group of researchers have lost a paper in a computer science journal because they were apparently using its references to help the impact factor of a different journal that one of them edits.

Here’s the notice for “Impacts of sensor node distributions on coverage in sensor networks,” a paper first published in 2011 and cited four times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (

It has been brought to the attention of the Journal of Parallel and Distributed Computing that an article previously published in JPDC included a large number of references to another journal. It is the opinion of the JPDC Editor-in-Chief and the Publisher that these citations were not of direct relevance to the article and were included to manipulate the citation record.

This article is being retracted at the request of the Publisher, on the basis that it violates Elsevier’s policy regarding citation manipulation.

So why wasn’t this caught in peer review? The notice continues:

The Editors and editorial board of JPDC were not involved in facilitating this manipulation, as the references were added after acceptance, thus avoiding editorial scrutiny.

The now-retracted paper has 117 references, dozens of which are to the International Journal of Sensor Networks. That journal’s editor in chief just happens to be Yang Xiao, the third author of the now-retracted paper and a National Science Foundation-supported researcher at the University of Alabama. We’ve tried to reach him and the JPDC editor-in-chief, and will update with anything we learn.

This isn’t the first retraction for citation manipulation. That seems to have happened about a year and a half ago, and has been followed by another set of such retractions.

Of course, now that journals are on the lookout for this sort of thing citation, authors may have to rely on a method employed by researchers who wanted to see how easy it would be to game Google Scholar: Create a fake researcher and upload his or her fake papers to a real university site.

It worked, by the way.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

  • Richard Van Noorden February 3, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Readers may like to know further details about this citation pattern, which was spotted by Thomson Reuters and revealed in June 2013. That was when Thomson Reuters published the list of journals it was barring from receiving an impact factor, either because of excessive self-citation, or (in the case of 14 journals) because of ‘citation stacking’. The Journal of Parallel and Distributed Computing and the International Journal of Sensor Networks were both on that list.

    I (a journalist at Nature) spent some time following up with the various journals, and reported in detail about the story behind one case, in which Brazilian editors agreed to publish articles citing each others’ journals (see and a note on Retraction Watch of further fallout in a related case,

    For lack of space – and for lack of interesting details about what happened and why – my article did not report in detail on the case of the Journal of Parallel and Distributed Computing (JPDC) and the International Journal of Sensor Networks (IJSN). However, the analysis I took from Thomson Reuters’ figures showed that one paper in JPDC in 2011 – the same paper that has now been retracted – provided most of the citations to IJSN papers in 2009 and 2010. That significantly boosted IJSN’s impact factor for 2011.

    The paper, ‘Impacts of sensor node distributions on coverage in sensor networks’, cites 33 IJSN 2010 papers (85% of all the citations that IJSN 2010 papers received in 2011), and 45 IJSN 2009 papers (59% of all the citations that IJSN 2009 papers received in 2011).

    At the time of my reporting, July 2013, I had emailed Yang Xiao, editor-in-chief of IJSN; Viktor Prasanna, editor-in-chief of JPDC, and Jie Wu, an associate editor on the editorial board of JPDC. Xiao and Wu are both co-authors of the paper. Xiao emailed me back: “Any thing reported is subjected to a legal issue and a law suite [sic]. Anything you want to talk, please talk to our lawyer.” But he did not provide me with further details when I followed up.

  • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva February 3, 2014 at 10:07 am

    I quote, directly, from a peer report by Prof. Schuyler S. Korban, PhD, former Editor in Chief, Plant Cell, Tissue & Organ Culture, Springer.

    “COMMENTS FOR THE AUTHOR: Editor-in-Chief:
    To increase the visibility and impact of this study, you must search through recently published articles in THIS journal, PCTOC, and cite at least 8 to 10 relevant articles published in 2010 to present ONLY (including those in Online First).”

    And this is not the only instance.

    I should note that the IF of this journal miraculously jumped almost three-fold in as many years and sits at quite an amazing 3.633 (which is high for the plant sciences). A complaint to the journal, to Prof. Korban and to the Springer management were never addressed.

  • liz February 3, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Took me a while to find it (saw it on twitter a while back) but this seems to be another clever method for accomplishing something similar:

  • aceil February 3, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    ” The Editors and editorial board of JPDC were not involved in facilitating this manipulation, as the references were added after acceptance ”

    Really, how so?

    • Tom February 6, 2014 at 2:26 am

      Easily, the references are added in the proof. I have once added one reference in the proof; I had asked the editor’s permission, as most guidelines clearly indicate that substantial changes to the proof must be approved by the editorial board of the respective journal. How many journals do you think actually enforce this policy, though? Citation stacking at the proof correction stage is fairly easy.

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