Indexer “obviously made a mistake” in sanctioning taxonomy journal, says editor

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Zoologists are up in arms that a leading taxonomy journal is being called out for excessive self-citation and being denied an Impact Factor.

Last week, Clarivate announced that it was suppressing 33 journals from its Journal Citation Report, which would mean no Impact Factor for those journals, because of high levels of self-citation that distorted journal rankings. One of those journals was Zootaxa, which since 2015 has published more than a quarter of all newly described taxa in the literature.

Denying Zootaxa an Impact Factor — which is used, for better or for worse, by universities and other institutions to determine whether a journal is worthy of publishing in — is unfair and damages the field, taxonomists said this past week.

For example, Wayne Maddison, a professor of botany and zoology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, tweeted:

Clarivate “obviously made a mistake in suppressing Zootaxa,” the journal’s chief editor, Zhi-Qiang Zhang, told Retraction Watch: 

They failed to understand the special nature of the science underlying the data (specialist branches with few active researchers on different animal groups). I already pointed out to them that they also failed to account for a major and very significant covariate of self-citation: the relative size of a journal (this is like examining data on rates of heart diseases among different countries without considering a covariate such as weight!).

Zoological Record (another Clarivate database focused on taxonomy and systematics) showed Zootaxa alone accounts for over 26% of the new taxa described in the world from 2015 to date.  It is over 400% as big as the second largest journal and published over 1400% as many new taxa as the third largest journal.

Zhang said he had been in touch with Clarivate and is “working on a detailed response with more evidence and support from data.”

A Clarivate spokesperson confirmed to Retraction Watch that the journal had been in contact with the company and said:

This year, we have updated our suppression policy, including our methodology and parameters for journal self-citation. Our approach remains data-driven; we do not apply subjective interpretations and we do not assume motive. The analysis now includes the percentage of out-going (citing) journal self-citation, as well as the percentage of in-coming (cited) activity. We now compare each journal within its assigned category (or categories) – instead of to the entire JCR – to allow for subject-based differences in citation behavior. We also now consider the level of distortion of the citation network, in addition to the outcome of that distortion on journal metrics and/or journal rank.

We acknowledge that in exceptional circumstances there may be compelling editorial reasons for an atypical level of journal self-citation, which fulfils a genuine scholarly purpose. In such cases we will liaise with the publisher to resolve any appeal as we continue to improve our method of identifying and addressing citation distortion.

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4 thoughts on “Indexer “obviously made a mistake” in sanctioning taxonomy journal, says editor”

  1. IF is a medieval abused metric that should be dismissed once for all. Better using SNIP and/or Citescore. I think that was the biggest favour that Clarivate made to Zootaxa.

  2. According to Clarivate’s Journal Citation Reports Zootaxa had 40% journal self-citation rate in its 2018 Journal Impact Factor, and 42% in the 2017 Journal Impact Factor. In the table published last week by Clarivate the self-citation rate in the 2019 JIF would be 43%. It is hardly a drastic change that should trigger suppression. It is also obvious that Zootaxa has always had high self-citation rate: it could be also seen from the Journal Impact Factor calculated without journal self-cites (which is also published in the Journal Citation Reports).

  3. This is science, how citation or self-citation might be atypical? Itas part of the scientific method (either hypothetically deductive or analytic deductive). So use that term is as stupid as the impact factor itself.

  4. Doesn’t Impact Factor also ignore, like, every article more than 10 years old? If you only take into account recent articles, and also signficantly less stuff without a DOI (because a LOT of taxonomy happens in small journals), then OBVIOUSLY that will make Zootaxa’s rate of self-citation unusually high, because you are literally excluding 90% of each articles’ citations!

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