Seventeen journals lose impact factors for suspected citation manipulation

Clarivate, the company that calculates Journal Impact Factors based on citations to articles, didn’t publish the metric for 17 journals this year due to suspected citation manipulation. That’s a substantial increase from last year, when only four were excluded. 

The increase is, in part, case of rising tides lifting (sinking?) all boats: In its 2024 Journal Citation Reports, Clarivate included an additional 7,200 journals from the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI) and the the Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI), a spokesperson for the company said, resulting in a larger number of impact factor suppressions than in past years. 

Clarivate suppressed nearly twice as many journals in 2020, when it penalized 33 for self-citation. The company suppressed 10 in 2021, and three the following year

In an email to Retraction Watch, a spokesperson said journals are suppressed from the report due to “anomalous citation behavior, including where there is evidence of excessive journal self-citation and/or citation stacking (which involves two or more journals). We do not presume a motive or accuse these journals of wrongdoing.”

Though the metric is controversial, many institutions use impact factors as an indicator of journal quality to evaluate the work of researchers – meaning journal suppressions can have negative effects for authors as well as for journals, which may see decreased submissions. 

Robert Mendelsohn, the editor-in-chief of Climate Change Economics, said his journal was suppressed because of “too many citations” from Springer’s Environmental Science & Pollution Research, which also did not receive an impact factor:

Clarivate said this was unusual for an economics journal and therefore suspicious. We tried to explain that our journal was focused on climate change and that it was important to link the economic studies to natural science.  This explained why so many authors had science citations.  Clarivate apparently did not care and gave us a year to change our ways. Keeping climate change studies anchored in natural science, however, is important. So we are not changing our citation policies.

A spokesperson for Springer said the publisher was disappointed that Clarivate had chosen to suppress Environmental Science and Pollution Research from the Journal Citation Reports, and that they are investigating Clarivate’s concerns. 

Rostyslav Vlokh, editor-in-chief of Ukranian Journal for Physical Optics, told us the reason his journal was suppressed was because of the “abnormally large number of citations (46%) for our journal in 2023” that came from Optik journal. He denied that his journal had any control over the “editorial politics” of Optik. 

“The citation stacking is quite a thin issue in this case, i.e., we cannot unambiguously prove or deny it – many authors were involved in the citation,” Vlokh said, calling the Clarivate editorial team “a bit hasty” in their decision-making. 

Editor-in-chief of Activities, Adaptation & Aging, Lim Weng Marc, told us in an email, “We are indeed sadden [sic] by this outcome.” He attributes the suppression of his impact factor to “change in our journal’s focus in 2021, which created a niche, and possibly due to the fairly small number of articles we publish.” 

The journal published 17 articles in 2021, 18 in 2022, and 28 in 2023. This low number “could have magnified the supposed self-citation to the articles in the same issue which our editorial introduces,” Marc said. 

Catherine Liu, a publisher for Elsevier, commented on the suppression of Resources Policy:

As shown by the Clarivate analysis, the citations from Resources Policy to 2 other small journals indeed provided a substantial boost to the citations numbers for 2 other small journals, with respect to the body of outgoing citations from Resources Policy they appear to be a tiny fraction (0.6%). However, although Resources Policy is prestigious within the community, and the scope of the problem is limited, Clarivate still insist to suppress Resources Policy from receiving Journal Impact Factor this time.

Liu noted that Elsevier is investigating this issue and might retract flagged papers or “at minimum” re-review and correct them, based on Elsevier’s recently updated retractions policy, which seeks to address compromised peer review and systematic review or citation problems. 

Clarivate is verifying Cuadernos De Economía following a high number of citations in other journals, a spokesperson for Elsevier’s Cuadernos De Economía said.

Two of the suppressed journals, Granular Computing, a Springer title, and Elsevier’s Information Sciences, both have Witold Pedrycz as editor-in-chief. Pedrycz did not respond to our request for comment. 

Elsevier takes these claims “very seriously” and is reviewing the articles highlighted by Clarivate, a spokesperson for Elsevier said. Clarivate was concerned about citations in 12 articles published in Information Sciences in 2023 and elected to suppress the journal’s impact factor for one year, the spokesperson said.

The other suppressed journals which didn’t respond to our request for comment are as follows:

“Suppressed journals remain in the Web of Science Core Collection – although they may be subject to re-evaluation and will be removed from coverage if they fail – and will be eligible for inclusion in the Journal Citation Reports again the following year,” a spokesperson for Clarivate said.

Update, 7/8/24, 1645 UTC: A representative from Emerald Publishing, the publisher of Library Hi Tech, told us that higher rates of self-citation in library science journals could be “higher than average due to a limited number of journals to cite in the field.” They told us the publisher was “working hard to educate all of our editorial teams so they can be alert to citation manipulation and we closely monitor our journals programme for any signs of coercive citation.” The representative noted that they were “disappointed” with Clarivate’s decision to suppress the journal, but remain “confident that there was no intentional citation manipulation by the editorial team.”

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8 thoughts on “Seventeen journals lose impact factors for suspected citation manipulation”

    1. According to Sciencedirect it was transferred back to the society in 2018 already. The latest issue on Sciencedirect is from January-April 2018.

    2. Clarivate is like a self-appointed head of state. It’s time to understand that, it’s just one of other sources of impact factor. Citefactor.org also give impact factor.

  1. I see the self citation thing a lot. It looks good until you actually read the bibliography and realize some of the sources aren’t sources and some of them actually conflict with the publication.

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