Refreshing honesty? Journal asks authors to help game its impact factor

homepageImage_en_USWe and others have documented plenty of cases where papers get retracted because authors manipulate citations to boost their impact factor.

Sometimes, journal publishers pressure authors to cite papers within the journal to artificially inflate its impact factor. Since this is highly discouraged – COPE has extensive commentary on the problem – it usually happens behind closed doors.

Since we’re all about transparency, we were delighted to discover that the Thammasat International Journal of Science and Technologya publication out of Thammasat University in Thailand, lists the policy up front:

Please kindly give some citations related to your written article from any articles published in TIJSAT in order that the TIJSAT’s impact factor can be raised to a higher level.

Here’s a screenshot, in case the journal gets cold feet (click for larger version):

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.12.14 PM


18 thoughts on “Refreshing honesty? Journal asks authors to help game its impact factor”

  1. Happened to me as author some years ago. Journal editor asked me to make some minor modifications and to add two additional references. These references were from his journal, were both less than 2 years old, including one of his papers. This journal was ranked no1 in its field. As a more junior researcher then I complied as I did not want to diminish my changes of having my modified paper rejected. Incidently, this journal also published a year in review article each year in which each published paper in that journal was reviewed ensuring an Impact Factor of at least 1.0, or in its case an Impact Factor of 1.0 greater than its true case. I know that several other journals have the same practice of a year in review article.

  2. So, Sylvain, what you are suggesting is that this journal and publisher is requesting the authorship to inflate a ghostly metric? That could become cousin to the term ghost authorship. And this could be a tragic comedy.

    There are some possibilities in this case:
    a) the journal is wait-listed at Thomson Reuter’s JCR, and is trying to fiddle the numbers for a future IF;
    b) the journal does not have an IF, as you state, and thus does not even know that it is fiddling with a non-existent metric;
    c) all editors on the editor board, including the Rector of the University, are unaware that they are trying to game a false IF:
    d) TIJSAT doesn’t understand what an IF is;
    e) All editors have no idea what is written on the web-page of their own journal;
    f) The language is not clear enough. This might be a possibility, given that “Manuscripts should be submitted … as 3 hard copies in quadruplicate to Coordinator, Office of The Rector Building…” as indicated clearly on the IFA page:
    Mathematically, can 3 = 4?
    Incidentally, the language editor is Asst. Prof. Dr. Chanathip Namprempre
    g) All of the above.
    h) None of the above.

    On the issue of publishing ethics and retractions:
    a) The word COPE is not mentioned anywhere, so I assume it is not a COPE member, which would relieve itself from having to adhere to any COPE guidelines, including on the IF?
    b) Not a single word in the IFA about originality, publishing ethics, plagiarism, or any other aspect that could render a paper retracted. Of course, not surprisingly, there is also no retraction policy, how to deal with claims, or any other “ethics”-related issues (to counter Sylvain’s claim that there is no “ethical issue”). In other words, how are immoral publishing acts decided by, or resolved by, this journal?

    Other curiosities and oddities:
    1) Editor No. 18, Prof. Dr. Paul Haddad, is from Tassmania (for those who can’t see the error, it’s Tasmania).
    2) The first 8 editors are from Thammasat University. That in itself is not odd. The odd thing is that all other external guests are listed after them. It is customary in international journals to first list all international editors, as a sign of courtesy, thanks and respect, then list the locals next.
    3) The “About Us” page shows a curious organogram (or manuscript editorial flow diagram), that ends with a box that states “Book distribution”. I’m confused, this is an open access journal.
    I added the following string of keywords into Google: “book publishing process flow diagram”. Got nothing, but well worth searching a little longer.

    Most definitely worth a few more screen-shots.

  3. Of course, the ultimate proof would be to test the actual journal content itself to see the frequency of TIJSAT self-referencing in the reference lists.

    So, I ran a small check for all papers in the fourth 2014 issue.
    1/15 references = TIJSAT
    0/32 references = TIJSAT
    0/13 references = TIJSAT
    1/14 references = TIJSAT
    0/19 references = TIJSAT
    0/17 references = TIJSAT, but a surprising 7/17 references from International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer (so certainly helping inflate the IF of other journals!)
    0/14 references = TIJSAT
    0/21 references = TIJSAT
    0/17 references = TIJSAT

    9 papers; total references = 162; total self-cites = 2 (or 1.23%). That’s tiny. So, it would appear that the policy to encourage self-citation is in place, but that the authorship is not actually self-citing (unless this is a new policy at TIJSAT).

    To see if the trend was similar in the remaining three issues of volume 19, a small verification was completed:
    Issue 3: 8 papers; total references = 205; total self-cites = 0 (or 0%).
    Issue 2: 8 papers; total references = 166; total self-cites = 2 (or 1.20%).
    Issue 1: 8 papers; total references = 196; total self-cites = 0 (or 0%).

    This would indicate that the level of self-citation was extremely low, at least in 2014.

    1) An interesting blank page on page 6:
    2) 19/22 references from IEEE proceedings:
    RW readers will recall the IEEE scandal:
    3) A very interesting study on police puppets (no TIJSAT self-citation):

    1. The article on Police puppets is quaint, with the reference to Wikipedia merged into reference 7. A more interesting metric might be the self-citation rate. And from these self-citations, more candidates for Beale’s list show up: “International Transaction Journal of Engineering, Management, & Applied Sciences & Technologies” (with a link to a blog that finds the peer review at Science to be lacking). I find the wide range of papers published (heating to beeswax for batik to nursing) a bit disconcerting.

  4. The journal is not listed by Thomson Reuters, so no Journal Impact Factor is calculated for them. No amount of self-citation is going to affect a metric that isn’t published.

  5. Are you the Mary McVeigh who is the Director of JCR and Bibliographic Policy at Thomson Reuters? If so, there are several IF-related queries that would be worthwhile clarifying here at RW.

    1. I am no longer working at Thomson Reuters and cannot address questions regarding the current data, products or processes. My many years’ work on JCR and Web of Science have given me a great deal of knowledge on citation indexing and citation metrics, as well as publishing practices across thousands of journals.
      I cannot speak for Thomson Reuters, but I can address general questions.

  6. Dear Marie McVeigh, thank you for confirming this. I would like to take this Q&A step by step, within an anonymous framework, and hopefully also get the involvement of the wider scientific community, simply because of the central role of the IF in science publishing. I sincerely hope that you may be able tointeract in this forum until all questions are answered. Simply because they are critical.

    I wish to start with three broad questions:

    a) I am of the belief that one of the main issues we are facing in science publishing is the lack of accountability and the lack of transparency. Would you agree with that assessment?

    b) That said, I am also of the belief that editors or editors in chief (EICs) who were at the helm of a journal during a certain period of time, typically 4 years, should be held responsible for the content of the journal that was published under their leadership, even after they retire from their position as EIC. Would you agree with this position?

    c) I also believe that a journal that has benefitted from having an impact factor, should always be held accountable for the content of that journal, even in past volumes or issues. By accountability, I mean all sorts and levels of errors (self-plagiarism, plagisrism, scientific errors, duplication, missing COIs, missing authorship criteria, etc.). Associated with this idea/notion, is the fact that an EIC is responsible for all aspects related to his/her journal. Would you agree with these ideas?

    I think, for now, these three questions would suffice, because your response will naturally flow on to other consecutive queries.

    1. I am willing to express my personal, professional opinion, but I do not speak for Thomson Reuters. However, what you are proposing is not an anonymous framework, but a single-blind. My name and credentials are available, yours are not. If you want to contact me directly for my opinion, you may do so, but not anonymously. If you want an official position from Thomson Reuters, you will have to contact them – and that, too, will not be anonymous.

  7. I think it is very important to take a step back to understand why I have requested an informal Q&A at RW with you. This case at TIJSAT involves the attempted manipulation of a metric, the impact factor (IF), even when the journal does not even have an IF, and even when the journal is not even listed on JCR’s list. So, the reasons for this seem to range from plain ignorance to attempted readership/authorship manipulation. No matter what the excuse, the case is important because it has revealed an open access journal with flaws, one of which is the total lack of publishing ethics policies, including related to retractions.

    And one of the commentators was you. And I wish to explain briefly why I believe your second comment may in fact be incorrect, or misguided: “No amount of self-citation is going to affect a metric that isn’t published.” Many, if not most, of the open access journals we see listed at Beall’s have only one ultimate objective in mind: to obtain an IF. In the worst-case scenarios, by any means possible, even if dishonest. Dishonesty by a journal or publisher can take many forms, and one of those may be to advertise a false IF, in the hope that they will catch the unsuspecting scientist to submit to their journal, increase the metrics, and then catch their first IF. So, in fact, this “editorial policy” by TIJST, which is unfortunately a little to crude in its desire, may be a rather futuristic one, in preparation for a possible future IF. Of course, this is just one plausible hypothesis based on the evidence now available. The best ones to respond would be TIJSAT management itself.

    Therefore, given your long-standing history and responsibility within the Thomson Reuter’s JCR/IF structure, I would say that a frank and open discussion about the IF is perfectly within limits in this public arena. Simply because you decided to identify yourself by name.

    But a name carries responsibilities, forever. Just as equally as an author is always responsible for his/her literature, or an editor, journal or publisher are always responsible for their legend, so too, I believe, you must always be held responsible, under your position at the time at Thomson Reuters, for public comments and for decisions made under your supervision.

    It is very unfortunate, as I see it, Marie McVeigh, that you are afraid of open discussion. You will undoubtedly understand that, just like in peer review in a journal, that the situation is most often single-blind peer review and authors never complain. Instead, they comply. When authors submit a paper to a single-blind journal, their identity is known, but the identity of the editor in charge, or the peer is not. Why would you be afraid of responding to what seem to be fairly legitimate questions from an anonymous voice of the scientific public?

    How would my Q&A be different to a single-blind peer review?

    I remain anonymous for one simple reason: the identity is not important. However, your position as the former Director of JCR is important. I believe that IFs were and continue to be assigned to journals without full transparency. Even the inclusion of journals on the Thomson Reuter’s list takes place behind a secret curtain. So there are some issues:

    a) How are IFs assigned to some journals within 1-2 years of existence?

    b) How can a value be generated in the equation A = B/C when C has a value of zero?

    c) How or why can “teams” assigned to evaluating the inclusion of a journal on Thomson Reuter’s list never be shown like an editor board? This calls into serious question the validity of some inclusions on the “Master list”, and finally receiving an IF. And it is here that we should take close notice of TIJSAT as one potential candidate for the future, trying no doubt to get its first IF.

    d) Do journals get an IF if they pay a service to get them listed on JCR’s list? In other words, can an IF be bought, directly or indirectly through “professional” services?

    It is more than evident that the questions above would have been, as your former role as the Director of JCR and Bibliographic Policy at Thomson Reuters, the most logical continuation of the three simple questions raised above.

    I am also of the staunch opinion that under such a highly responsible role within Thomson Reuters and JCR, that you will always be responsible for policies, actions and decisions made under your leadership at that time. Are you afraid to respond to these queries in public given your responsibility in Thomson Reuters?

    In closing, I wish to add that the IF is, in my opinion, the greatest corrupting factor in science publishing. Not least because the simplistic integer reflects a biased representation of a limited literature set, highly dependent on data-bases of commercial STM publishers. The teams that allow for inclusion on the list are opaque, and the criteria for inclusion are weak and unclear. These errors and criticisms were true at the time you were the Director of JCR and Bibliographic Policy at Thomson Reuters and they continue to be true today. Scientists game the IF, as do editors and journals and ultimately publishers. I believe that the massive economic spin-offs as a result of the IF and its use in journals must be within hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars annually, directly, or indirectly (e.g., editing services that game it, etc). So, any aspect that relates to the IF, and its incorrect comparison with “quality” must be exposed, critiqued, discussed and finally thrown out.

    I would hope that your would take this opportunity to address the scientific public’s concerns about the decisions that fell directly under your responsibility during your period of time in Thomson Reuters. Your LinkedIn profile clearly indicates the following:
    Director, Content Selection, Thomson Reuters
    2013 (Feb) – 2014 (Jan)
    Director, JCR and Bibliographic Policy, Thomson Reuters
    2010 (May) – 2013 (Feb)
    Senior Manager, JCR and Bilbiographic Policy, Thomson Reuters
    2006 (Jan) – 2010 (May)
    Product Development Manager – Academic & Government Market, Thomson Scientific

    Your link, involvement in, and influence on the IF for what appears to be an incredibly long period of time is not fictitious. I believe that you therefore have the responsibility of addressing queries, at least related to IF-related issues until January 2014, as equally as you have taken credit for the positive things you have done to promote the IF. After that date, I agree that any IF-related issues should, as you state, be directed to Thomson Reuters.

  8. In order to prevent some misunderstanding in TIJSAT on asking writers to cite references from their former research papers for a better impact factor, TIJSAT has to give up such suggestion.

    1. Needless to say, there is never anything wrong with referencing one’s own work, or with referencing papers from within the same journal that one is submitting to. Provided that the literature being referenced is directly related to, and pertinent, to the topic at hand. That is one issue. It is a totally separate issue to explicitly ask, or force, authors to self-cite or to cite from that journal with the purpose of manipulating a metric like the IF, or of any other of the “new” or “misleading” metrics ( So, indeed, TIJSAT should consider removing this blatant request from their web-page and also amending some of the other issues listed above to reagin some trust.

  9. TIJSAT has replaced the text on the IFA page with:
    ” Papers of research reports and articles with scientific research merit will be judged for publication under careful consideration from reviewers. Such research reports and articles include those containing substantial supported theories, innovative works, substantial experimental results and/or containing useful and constructive discussions or reviews standardized to regional or international acceptance. The editor reserves the right to recommend for revision as a condition for final acceptance. Manuscripts are to be reviewed by 2-4 referees specializing in related fields. Suggestions and comments (if any) are summarized before passing them to authors. In submitting the manuscript, the author(s) transfers the copyrights to TIJST, but still accepts any legal consequence for having the paper published.”

  10. Though it will be meaningless for the journal its self, the action has violated the impact factor policy and should be banned.

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