An engineering journal has retracted three 2016 papers. The reason: They had been cited too often.
Although the reason for the retractions may sound odd, the editor, Minvydas Ragulskis, told Retraction Watch he was concerned an author had engaged in citation manipulation. Specifically, Ragulskis explained that the majority of the citations came from papers at a 2017 conference on which one of the authors, Magd Abdel Wahab, was chair—raising suspicion that he had asked conference presenters to cite his work.
Almost three-quarters of papers that cited Wahab’s work originated from the conference, which “is large enough to assume a high probability for citation manipulation,” Ragulskis said. (Wahab, Professor and Chair of Applied Mechanics at Ghent University in Belgium, was not a co-author on the conference papers that cited his work.)
The conference, the 12th International Conference on Damage Assessment of Structures, took place in July 2017 in Kitakyushu, Japan. The three papers, published in Journal of Vibroengineering throughout 2016, were retracted this past December, with the following notice:
This paper is retracted because it was cited more than 5 times from Journal of Physics: Conference Series, Volume 842, 2017. Journal of Vibroengineering does not tolerate such a misconduct when a paper is cited more than 5 times from a single Conference proceedings (12-th International Conference on Damage Assessment of Structures, 10-12 July, 2017, Kitakyushu, Japan) – and one of the co-authors of the cited paper (Magd Abdel Wahab) was the Chairman of the Conference.
According to Ragulskis, the three papers each had been cited a dozen or more times by papers at the conference, as well as a handful of times by other papers.
Ragulskis told us:
The Publisher decided to retract all three papers due to the internal warning based on the statistical indicators.
It must be noted that the scientific quality of all three papers is not compromised. All three papers had gone through the anti-plagiarism detection service (iThenticate check), the peer review process and several rounds of revisions.
Cause for retraction?
Citation manipulation is a problem in the literature, no doubt—but not typically a cause for retraction (and not mentioned in the retraction guidelines issued by the Committee on Publication Ethics). Given that there were no scientific issues with the papers themselves, we asked Ragulskis why the journal felt the need to retract them, simply because they may have been over-cited. He told us that the journal suspected Wahab may have committed misconduct by “asking authors to cite his work,” which may have led to citation manipulation.
But the journal may have jumped the gun with the retractions. After investigating the matter, Ragulskis said Wahab told him that the citation issue was an “innocent mistake due to his lack of experience in citation ethics” and apologized for causing “such an unpleasant situation.”
Ragulskis also said that although the editors suspected Wahab had manipulated citations, they did not have solid proof:
Journal of Vibroengineering does not have a list of authors who declare that they were asked by the chair to cite his papers. Therefore, we cannot speculate on the level of innocence or on the severity of the mistake.
Ragulskis noted that because the editors didn’t have any formal proof that conference participants were encouraged to cite these three papers, the publisher, JVE International, has decided to republish the retracted papers with an accompanying editorial note in the first 2018 issue of Journal of Vibroengineering, published in mid-February.
It’s unclear, however, how an “innocent mistake” could explain the number of citations. Ragulskis did not provide further details, and Wahab declined to comment until after his articles are republished in mid-February.
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