Researchers, need $100? Just mention Cyagen in your paper!

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A bioscience company is offering researchers a voucher — $100 and up — to mention them in published papers.

“PCR just got a new meaning,” Cyagen Biosciences, Inc. declares on their website: “Publish”, “Cite,” “Reward.”

The company, which makes bioscience tools, is offering scientists vouchers in exchange for a nod: 

Did you use Cyagen’s animal models in your latest study? Cite us in your publication and earn $100 or more based on your journal’s impact factor !

Customers who cite Cyagen as a service provider in any scientific journal will receive a citations reward voucher. This voucher can be used towards any products or services from Cyagen.

The higher the journal’s impact factor, the more money scientists get, based on Cyagen’s formula:

Voucher Value = (IF) * $100

For example, if you published a paper in Science (IF = 30) and cite Cyagen Biosciences, you will entitled to a voucher with a face value of $3,000 after Cyagen verifies your information!

The company sent out many emails to researchers alerting them to the program, and not all were pleased:

On his blog Bad Science, Ben Goldacre explains why this “reward program” could be a problem:

I would imagine that this is something journal editors will be interested in, and concerned by. We worry about “conflict of interest” a lot in science, and especially medicine: if someone has shares in a company, or receives money from it, and their publication discusses that company’s products, then this should at the very least be clearly declared. If you have received payment for making an academic citation, then in my view this is clearly income that should be declared.

We contacted a representative of Cyagen, who said the program “just launched earlier this summer around June/July”:

To date, only 2-3 previous customers have contacted us regarding the program, and would receive a discount on their next service/product purchase from us. As mentioned previously, this is provided in a discount on their quote/order and not an actual payment in any way.

Scientists can even get credit for previous papers that mentioned Cyagen, it seems:

Scientists are required ethically to list in their materials and methods section any and all sources for their reagents, services, etc. As such, any researcher who has utilized our services for their study would be required to list us in their materials and methods section. We are providing a store credit towards future services/products for previous customers who have cited us in their prior studies. This is something we can validate as well, as we have sales records of all researchers and companies who have purchased our services, to ensure that citations are in fact true and ethical, and we did in fact provide services or products to a researcher for their study, and not that they simply cited us to gain free store credit when in fact they never utilized us in their research.

The program isn’t much different from what other companies offer, the spokesperson noted:

Scientists do not receive any sort of reward money from us, but rather a store credit towards their next purchase. This is similar to other companies’ promotions which offer (for example) $50 off a $300 purchase (Life Technologies), or a free gift (labcoat, speaker, towel) with purchase (Applied Biosystems), or a pizza gift card with minimum purchase (MidSci). This is also similar to many retails stores which issue coupons/”store cash” good for use on your next purchase. The end result of all of these is the same: a decrease in their price quote with no physical payment being rendered. Scientists are not required to disclose discounts they received or promotion codes used, and as such, would not necessarily be required to disclose that they received a discount off future purchases.

Phil Davis, a consultant who studies rewards in academic publishing, told us in a phone conversation that his initial reaction was that this was not a major issue:

I don’t see it as as problematic. This is not a journal. This is a company selling products….They are selling tools. Scientists use references and citations as an endorsement of a tool.

Scientists have to disclose funding from grants, he pointed out. But this isn’t quite the same:

Maybe it would be considered a conflict of interest. They’re trying to get authors to do advertisements. It’s not as clear.

He added in an email:

[Conflict of interest] often rides on a ‘perception of conflict,’ whether the relationship actually influences the author is impossible to demonstrate.

Update 8/17: The Cyagen spokesperson told us that they have made a change to the program:  

As of now we have updated the program according to feedback we have received and are no longer associating the promotion with impact factor and are basing it strictly on a per article basis, with updates to the wording and terms to clarify the situation and ensure researchers know we will fact check prior to issuing a discount on future orders. We received quite a bit of constructive criticism aside from the angry responses which really helped guide this revision. I’ve included the link to the updated promotion page below. We will have to wait and see what feedback we receive from this revision as well as how many researchers contact us regarding promotional requests.
There’s an email for the company at the bottom of that page.


Hat Tip: Ben Goldacre

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6 thoughts on “Researchers, need $100? Just mention Cyagen in your paper!”

  1. “Scientists use references and citations as an endorsement of a tool.”

    Citation does not imply endorsement of a tool. It only means “this is the tool that I used”. There is no implication of “I enjoyed using this tool and would choose to use it again” over “yeah, I used this tool, but it was awful and if I had to do it over I would try their competitor’s product”.

    In their papers, US government employees are required to state that listing companies, brand names, etc. is not to be understood as endorsement.

  2. So every mention of Cyagen products in Methods from now on implies paid for endorsement? Whether we like it or not, using a trade name product in a publication is some sort of implicit endorsement – I/my organisation chose the product from whatever else was available – it is good enough for us. But purchased endorsement – same as a celebrity endorsing deodorant. It clearly works for consumer products, but in science?

  3. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is sleazy and shouldn’t be happening.

    But I think the way I judge this episode would depend on exactly who Cyagen are. I’d never heard of them before, but that doesn’t mean much because I’m not a lab researcher, so there is no reason why I should have done.

    Are they a well known and otherwise reputable company? Or are they just some tin pot little fly-by-night outfit that no reputable researcher would use anyway?

    In the former case, I think this is actually pretty scandalous. In the latter, I probably wouldn’t get too worked up about a sleazy company doing sleazy things.

  4. In the Update: “We received quite a bit of constructive criticism aside from the angry responses”

    What does that mean? The angry responses were still right, weren’t they? Hence why they changed their policy.

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