Journals punished by high-profile indexing service cry foul, demand a recount

A group of editors of journals focused on the history of economics has gone public to urge Clarivate Analytics, which publishes a highly influential ranking of journals, to reconsider its decision to drop the titles from this year’s index.

Clarivate said it suppressed the titles because of apparent “citation stacking,” in which various editors agree to cite one another to boost their journals’ Impact Factors (JIFs). The metric is based on average rates of citation over a given period. As we noted in a June 26 post about the suppressions, suppressing titles

can have far-reaching effects, both for those authors who’ve published in these journals, and for the journals themselves, since researchers will often go elsewhere in search of journals whose rank is recognized by their tenure and promotion committees. (Of course, many, including us, have argued that Impact Factor is not the best way to judge research.)

Indeed, the editors of two of the three journals punished, the European Journal of the History of Economic Thought (EJHET), published by Taylor and Francis, and the Journal of the History of Economic Thought (JHET), published by Cambridge University Press, wrote in an open letter to Clarivate on June 30:

It is our duty not only to appeal your decision to remove EJHET, JHET, and [History of Economic Ideas] HEI from the 2017 Impact Factor statistics, but also to emphasize how harmful your decision is. The information you produce is used in several countries to generate national rankings of journals that are consulted by research funding agencies and by national committees for academic promotion. Having three history of economics journals with no Impact Factor statistics for 2017 is profoundly damaging for historians and for any interdisciplinary venture with our field.

There’s a simple explanation, say editors

The editors say that the citation anomalies can be explained by perfectly acceptable behavior, and suggest a solution:

A survey article that covers what has been produced recently in the field ends up accounting for the majority of citations in a given year to EJHET and JHET. Removing the citations from that particular survey article would easily solve the alleged problem.

No can do, Clarivate — which publishes the Journal Citation Report (JCR) — tells Retraction Watch, saying that “distortion by an excessive concentration of citations is a serious matter:”

We do not infer impure motives on the part of the citing author, editors, or anyone affiliated with these journals in this specific case; however, when such an anomaly surfaces that so clearly matches our definition of citation stacking we are forced to act to protect the integrity of the JIF and of the JCR as a whole.

Since the JIF and rank in category of the journals suppressed would have been greatly altered by this citation activity  we cannot publish a meaningful metric and we are forced to suppress both the recipient and the donor journals. There is no mechanism in place that would allow us to selectively remove study  citations from the JCR dataset and calculate a JIF with the exclusion of the specific item in question. To do so would in fact be disingenuous on our part since that item and all of its cited references are part of the published record of the journal  were in turn indexed by Clarivate, and are now part of the JCR citing dataset. And so the suppressions from 2017 data must stand.

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