Ousted editor speaks: I did not manipulate citations

Artemi Cerdà

Last month, a publisher announced that one of its editors had resigned, following accusations he’d asked authors to cite particular papers, boosting his profile and that of journals where he worked. The publisher declined to name the editor. But when an anonymous report began circulating about the incident, the publisher named the researcher: Artemi Cerdà, based at the Universitat de València.

Cerdà has since resigned from other journals, but hadn’t made any public statements that we could find about the incident — until now.

We spoke with Cerdà, who asserted repeatedly that he had not forced authors to add citations to their papers, and was being unfairly accused by journals who had to explain why their impact factors had risen dramatically:

They’re putting all the heat on me, because they made a mistake.

Cerdà also denied being part of a “citation cartel,” as has been alleged by an anonymous report.

They were making like I was a boss of a cartel. Oh my god…A cartel of what? Of cocaine?

According to Cerdà, he reviewed many papers for the European Geosciences Union, the publisher who first publicly announced that an unnamed editor had manipulated citations. In cases where the authors hadn’t cited enough papers, or he thought they needed more background information, Cerdà told us he would suggest they read other papers, sometimes mentioning his work or the work of journals where he was based, because his teachers had done that during his training.

If the paper needs to be informed, I suggest to read – not to cite – other work.

What’s more, at the EGU journals, he was a “topical editor,” and didn’t make any decisions about manuscripts.

If it was not correct, why did [editors] accept it?..I couldn’t force [authors] to cite, because I was not Executive Editor…

When he learned that the journals were upset by his practice, Cerdà said he offered to resign, just to avoid problems. But he thought the publisher wouldn’t publicly name him — and was shocked when it did:

They took a decision where they put my name in public.

Cerdà added that he thought publishing might have a larger problem:

If one guy like me, that is trying to help the authors, can change the impact factor of [multiple] journals…we have to change the system.

For more information about EGU’s investigation of Cerdà, you can read their 14-page report, issued last month. In it, they conclude:

As topical editor, Artemi Cerdà handled 82 manuscripts for the journals SE (76) and SOIL (6). For 41 manuscripts he suggested to include in total 622 additional references to the journals LDD (327), SOIL (78), SE (99), CATENA (10), Geoderma (3), and others (116). From these suggestions, 399 were included by the authors of 38 manuscripts. These inclusions reference to LDD (201), SE (65), SOIL (54), CATENA (6), Geoderma (2), and others (71). His maximum was 53 suggestions for a manuscript.

As reviewer, Artemi Cerdà worked on 51 manuscripts in the journals BG (1), ESurf (1), HESS (6), SE (37) and SOIL (6). For 38 manuscripts he suggested to include in total 423 additional references to the journals LDD (229), SOIL, (30), SE (49), CATENA (12), and others (103). His maximum was 28 suggestions for a manuscript.

We’re not sure how common citation-stacking is; our co-founders have written about the issue in their STAT column. Last year, Thomson Reuters, now part of Clarivate Analytics, delisted two journals for citation stacking, and many others for excessive self-citation.

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14 thoughts on “Ousted editor speaks: I did not manipulate citations”

  1. What a convenient excuse.. No Shame..
    Trying to help authors publish by providing superficial review? Just cite lots of papers from LDD and SOIL ?
    The evidence is all over..
    Artemi noted: I wish to suggest some recent publications to be cited to make the paper even more updated and helpful.
    And the editor happily endorsed it. “If it was not correct, why did [editors] accept it?.”
    Executive Editor Jorge Mataix Solera wrote: “Dear authors, please see the technical corrections suggested by the Topical Editor. Kind regards. Jorge”

    More examples of Artemi’s easy citation recommendation reviews in Solid Earth as a platform to increase the number of LDD citations:

  2. Shameful conduct – it is NEVER and editors role to suggest references or citations or reading. That’s the reviewer’s role. Unfortunately, corrupt editors are rampant including in major journals.

  3. “As reviewer, Artemi Cerdà worked on 51 manuscripts in the journals BG (1), ESurf (1), HESS (6), SE (37) and SOIL (6). For 38 manuscripts he suggested to include in total 423 additional references to the journals LDD (229), SOIL, (30), SE (49), CATENA (12), and others (103). His maximum was 28 suggestions for a manuscript.”

    Cerdà suggested citations for 74.5% of all manuscripts he reviewed. For each of those, he suggested an average of 11.1 additional citations.

    This was either an intentional attempt at citation manipulation, or it was an unprofessional personal obsession.

  4. “For 38 manuscripts he suggested to include in total 423 additional references “… maths is not my strong point but that appears to be >10 additional references for each paper.

    1. It would be interesting to see what Cerdà would consider manipulation of citations. Apparently single-handedly doubling the impact factor of a journal doesn’t quite cut it.

      I do agree with him about the fact that the whole impact factor concept is broken, though.

    2. Yea, you are right. It seems that he was certain about his impunity due to confidential kind of the peer-review process…

  5. I don’t think that Artemi made any mistake. Opposite, he contributed a lot to the earth science. Because it is difficult to recommend some references to authors if he didn’t read or know the content of references. Further, he didn’t get any profit from the cited the reference, and it is not necessary to do this if only want to increase the impact factor. I think all the editors should have the ability and duty to recommend the reference to the authors to improve the article and not only to judge “acceptation” or “rejection”. It is also important to know that the impact factor means nothing, and researchers should aim to tell others what they found in the studies.

    1. Unfortunately, the impact factor does mean something. We may not like it, but it does. If you are Editor for a journal with an impact factor of 8, you will for sure get more respect from your bosses (and likely also your peers) then when it has an impact factor of 1.

      Whether this is what Cerdà was aiming for is unclear, but it is rather suspicious that he suggested so extremely many papers to “read” (and actually, to cite, as the first commenter shows) that happened to have appeared in the journal for which he was the Editor-in-Chief.

  6. I have actually seen one of his ‘suggestions to authors’ during the review process. The language is a bit jumbled, and the result frankly rather unclear about what to do, but there was a long list of suggested papers, all from LDD. So I still have no idea what the intention really was – nonetheless resigning seems the best thing.

  7. I wonder what would happen if any researcher is investigated the way Prof. Cerdá has been investigated. I can only speak for myself but in many reviews where I’ve been peer I suggested the author to read some literature, sometimes mine, sometimes others. I recommend literature that I know, which is fairly limited to authors who work in my field and I actively follow, so if investigated, someone could say I’m trying to favour some authors and journals, which is not true.
    Additionally many times I reviewed articles poorly cited which if needed more than 50 new cites to support its thesis. In those cases I rejected the article, since I believe is not my job as a reviewer to do the bibliographic research, but this is what I do, and I can understand that someone with the experience of Prof. Cerdá, if willing to help the author, can suggest this amount of literature.
    Finally, I’ve summited different articles to journals where Prof. Cerdá was Editor, including LDD and I did not get any suggestion for him to include literature.
    I just think that before drag someone’s name though the dirt, we should consider what would happen if the same queries where done to ourselves.
    Someone with more than 9k cites and University chair with more to lose than to win with all this, deserves some respect.

    1. I really must agree. Citation stacking is of course a real problem but so is poorly written scientific papers lacking in bibliographic background or review. As a reviewer it is quite common to get papers that lack in background information and litterature background.

      The problem here is not one sided. A part of the problem is that the authors blindly add the suggested articles, possibly without reading them our making a proper review. The stress and time pressure is everywhere.

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