Crime journal’s meteoric rise due to questionable self-citation: analysis

JCJShould it be a crime for editors to cite work in their own journal?

Last year, the Journal of Criminal Justice became the top-ranked journal in the field of criminology, but critics say that its meteoric rise is due in part to the editor’s penchant for self-citation.

As Thomas Baker of the University of Central Florida, writes in the September/October issue of the The Criminologist, a newsletter of the American Society of Criminology:

No Criminology and Penology journal impact factor has grown faster over the last two years than the impact factor of JCJ. When a journal improves significantly in impact factor rankings, the hope is that it has done so because the quality of science published in the journal has improved. When compared to the flagship journals of ASC [American Society of Criminology] and ACJS [Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences], much of the recent growth observed for JCJ appears to have been driven by journal self-citations and citations from papers authored or co-authored by the editor.

The most popular way of ranking journals is Thomson Reuters’s impact factor, which is calculated each year based on the number of citations a journal receives to articles published the previous two years, divided by the total number of articles published in those years. Between 2012 and 2014, the Journal of Criminal Justice’s impact factor rose from 1.236 to 3.154, displacing the ASC’s Criminology from the top spot.

According to Baker, out of the 328 citations the journal received in 2014, 157 were self-citations – meaning, a paper in JCJ cites another JCJ paper. More than one-quarter of the 2014 citations — 90 – came just from editorials or articles contributed by the editor, Matt Delisi of Iowa State University. One editorial, titled “Criminal Minds,” was only four paragraphs long, but included 44 citations to papers in the journal. If you calculate the journal’s ranking without including self-citations, it would slip to 10th place within the field of criminology.

Bob Bursik at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, former editor of ASC’s Criminology, called JCJ’s practices “disingenuous and lacking in integrity.” A second commentary by Francis Cullen, previous president of the ASC, notes that “probably Professor DeLisi’s most controversial practice is publishing his own articles in the journal he edits.”

Thomson Reuters notes that a certain amount of self-citation is to be expected:

Among all journals listed in the 2010 [Journal Citation Report] Science Edition, for example, 85% have self-citation rates of less than 15%. This shows that self-citation is quite normal for most journals. Significant deviation from this normal rate, however, prompts an examination by Thomson Reuters to determine if excessive self-citations are being used to artificially inflate the impact factor. If we determine that self-citations are being used improperly, the journal’s impact factor will be suppressed for at least two years and the journal may be considered for deselection from Web of Science.

JCJ is not among the 29 journals that were suppressed from the 2014 Journal Citation Report.

In an interview with Retraction Watch, Delisi said he thinks the criticism is a bad case of sour grapes and is dismayed that he wasn’t given a chance to respond to the paper before it was published. “If you do editorials, it’s obvious that you are going to cover or promote work in your own journal,” he said.

There are some hurt feelings in the American Society of Criminology and its journal [Criminology] and this was a way to attack JCJ and me.

He maintains that authors like it when he recognizes their JCJ research in editorials, and he uses the editorials as a way to direct the field and guide future submissions. Under his tenure as editor, for instance, he has emphasized biosocial criminology, which focuses on biological rather than sociological theories of criminal behavior, and has also put him at odds with traditionalists in ASC.

Other journals have tried to boost their citation data in more explicit ways. Earlier this year, we wrote about Thammasat International Journal of Science and Technology, a publication out of Thammasat University in Thailand, that explicitly asked authors for citations to boost its impact factor. (The journal later removed that request from its author page.)

Baker told us that his goal was never just to pick a fight, but to point out a general problem. ”This is not just a discussion of an individual editor,” he said:

We know this is going on throughout the field.

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3 thoughts on “Crime journal’s meteoric rise due to questionable self-citation: analysis”

  1. “If you do editorials, it’s obvious that you are going to cover or promote work in your own journal,” he said.
    Well, yes indeed; but then why are citations in editorials counted?

  2. Of course, gaming the IF is half the problem. The other half is an academic playing field that continues to put so much blind faith – and investment – in such a ridiculously simple integer. Decentralize the IF from academia, including journal ranking, and we will wipe out these citation abuses.

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