What do you do when editors ask you to cite for inflating impact factors?

Ben Goldacre writes,

This is an interesting new record of bad behaviour, driven by bibliometrics: academic journals, asking academic authors to cite papers from their own pages, in order to make that journal’s impact factor look better. Worse than that, it happened at the fragile moment, where a paper’s publication hangs in the balance. Grim!


F. Avanzini et al., “Solicited SelfReferencing Undermines the Credibility of Researchers and Journals,” Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis (n.d.)


We wish to draw the attention of the readership of this journal and of the scientific community at large to what recently happened to a colleague of ours. The letter accompanying the editor’s request for major revision of a manuscript included the following surprising advice: “The Editors would also greatly appreciate you adding more than two but fewer than six references of articles published in [the Journal involved], above all articles published over the past two years.” A rapid survey among a few colleagues told us that this type of editorial policy is not as exceptional as one might believe. Another editor conveyed the same message to a prospective author: “We would like to emphasize that we attach great importance to cross referencing very recent material on the same topic in [this journal]. Therefore, it would be highly appreciated if you would check the last 2 years of [the same Journal] and add all material relevant to your article to the reference list”.

… It is likely that the forementioned editors’ requests for self-citation of articles published in the previous two years was meant to increase the number of citations and hence inflate the impact factors of their journals.

While it is legitimate that a scientific journal is pleased to see its impact factor raising as a consequence of the increased recognition of its published articles, it is obviously unacceptable for the increase to be artificially triggered through the practice of soliciting self-citations. If this kind of requests from editors spreads, prospective authors may soon feel obliged to refer to articles from the journal to which they are submitting their work, even when citations are unnecessary or irrelevant. With time this may become a custom and a way to capture the benevolence of editors, though not serving scientific merits and aims.

This is not just impact factor driven examples of unacceptable behaviour, it’s wrong. Sad that such a request came from the editors of a journal. 

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