Coercive citation is an academic publishing practice in which an editor of a scientific or academic journal forces an author to add spurious citations to an article before the journal will agree to publish it. This is done to inflate the journal's impact factor, thus artificially boosting the journal's scientific reputation. Manipulation of impact factors and self-citation has long been frowned upon in academic circles; however, the results of a 2012 survey indicate that about 20% of academics working in economics, sociology, psychology, and multiple business disciplines have experienced coercive citation. Individual cases have also been reported in other disciplines.
The impact factor (IF) of a journal is a measure of how often, on average, papers published in the journal are cited in other academic publications. The IF was devised in the 1950s as a simple way to rank scientific journals. Today, in some disciplines, the prestige of a publication is determined largely by its impact factor.
Use of the impact factor is not necessarily undesirable as it can reasonably incentivise editors to improve their journal through the publication of good science. Two well-known academic journals, Nature and Science, had impact factors of 36 and 31 respectively. A respected journal in a sub-field, such as cognitive science, might have an impact factor of around 3.
However, impact factors have also become a source of increasing controversy. As early as 1999, in a landmark essay Scientific Communication — A Vanity Fair?, Georg Franck criticized citation counts as creating a marketplace where "success in science is rewarded with attention". In particular, he warned of a future "shadow market" where journal editors might inflate citation counts by requiring spurious references. In 2005, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education called it "the number that's devouring science".
When an author submits a manuscript for publication in a scientific journal, the editor may request that the article's citations be expanded before it will be published. This is part of the standard peer review process and meant to improve the paper. Coercive citation is a specific unethical business practice in which the editor asks the author to add citations to papers published in the very same journal (self-citation) and in particular to cite papers that the author regards as duplicate or irrelevant. Specifically, the term refers to requests which:
- Give no indication that the manuscript was lacking proper citations
- Make no suggestion as to specific body of work requiring review
- Direct authors to add citations only from the editor's own journal
In 2012 Wilhite and Fong published results of a comprehensive survey of 6,700 scientists and academics in economics, sociology, psychology, and multiple business disciplines. In this survey, respondents were asked whether, when submitting a manuscript to a journal, they had ever been asked by the editor to include spurious citations to other papers in the same journal. Their findings indicate that 1 in 5 respondents have experienced coercive citation incidents, and that 86% regard it as unethical. A particularly blatant example they cite is:
- "you cite Leukemia [once in 42 references]. Consequently, we kindly ask you to add references of articles published in Leukemia to your present article"
Such a message would be clearly interpreted by the author that the requested citations must be added or the article will be rejected. Business fields such as finance, marketing, and economics are disciplines in which the practice is most prevalent. However, five of the top ten offenders come from the same publishing house, which shows the problem is also related to specific business practices of publishers and not just the particular discipline. In another analysis, one journal's impact factor dropped from 2.731 to 0.748 when the self-citations were removed from consideration. The business journal industry has responded that they intend to confront the practice more directly.
Coercive citation is primarily targeted at younger researchers and papers with a smaller number of authors in order to have the greatest effect on the impact factor. It was also found to be prevalent in authors from non-English-speaking countries. The practice is risky as it may damage the reputation of the journal and hence has the potential of actually reducing the impact factor. Journals also risk temporary exclusion from Thomson Reuters' Journal Citation Reports, an influential list of impact factors, for such practices. Research suggests that larger and more highly ranked journals have more valuable reputations at stake and thus may be more reluctant to jeopardize their reputations by using the practice.
- Wilhite, A. W.; Fong, E. A. (2012). "Coercive Citation in Academic Publishing". Science 335 (6068): 542–3. doi:10.1126/science.1212540. PMID 22301307.
- Smith, R. (1997). "Journal accused of manipulating impact factor". BMJ 314 (7079): 461. doi:10.1136/bmj.314.7079.461d. PMC 2125988. PMID 9056791.
- R. Monastersky, "The number that’s devouring science." Chron. Higher Educ. (14 October 2005)
- Sebastiaan Mathôt: "Cite my journal or else: Coercive self-citation in academic publishing" at COGSCIdotNL: Cognitive Science and more, 4 February 2012
- Franck, G. (1999). "ESSAYS ON SCIENCE AND SOCIETY:Scientific Communication--A Vanity Fair?". Science 286 (5437): 53. doi:10.1126/science.286.5437.53.
- Marco Pagano and Josef Zechner: "Review of Finance Report by the Managing Editors" Stockholm, 17 August 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Lynch, J. G. (2012). "Business Journals Combat Coercive Citation". Science 335 (6073): 1169. doi:10.1126/science.335.6073.1169-a.
- Coercive citation in Asian authors. http://www.booksie.com/editorial_and_opinion/article/rohwani/coercive-citation-in-asian-authors
- Sarah Huggett (4 June 2012). "Impact Factor Ethics for Editors - Editors' Update – Your network for knowledge". Elsevier. Retrieved 5 June 2012.