Editors and publishers know how important the impact factor is, and can go to great lengths to generate more citations. Sometimes, such efforts can pay off handsomely. In one case, merely calling for a paper to be cited in its text (“This paper could serve as a general literature citation . . .”) led to more than 6,600 citations and increased the impact factor of Acta Crystallographica Section A from 2.051 to 49.926. Its next-most cited article had 28 citations.
Coercion is another approach. Citation coercion has been experienced by about 20% of academic authors, and younger faculty are more likely to succumb when editors or publishers “request” more journal citations. In these situations, it’s easy to picture editors or publishers deploying heavy-handed techniques — intimidation, threats, and directives — to browbeat young authors into pumping up impact factors with bogus self-citations.
So it’s reassuring that such an attempt recently came to pass because of innocent enthusiasm, was quickly withdrawn after the inappropriateness of the request was pointed out, and involved a sweeter form of coercion, as this email forwarded to the Scholarly Kitchen in mid-November reveals:
SUBJECT: JEOS:RP Sweepstakes: Win a Marzipan Loaf of the Year!
For every paper that is published until the end of 2012 and that includes a reference to a JEOS:RP paper from 2010 or 2011 you will be rewarded with a Niederegger Marzipan Loaf of the Year. Just email me a copy of the paper and I will have a loaf of finest German marzipan delivered directly to your office.
. . .
PS: Citations to older issues (2006-2009) are of no importance for the impact factor.
The EOS is the European Optical Society, and JEOS:RP is the Journal of the European Optical Society: Rapid Publications. The author of the email is an executive at EOS — I’ve chosen to redact the name based on the complete story, which follows, and because everyone felt this was merely a case of misinformed and misdirected enthusiasm.
JEOS:RP is an open access (OA) journal competing to some extent on its impact factor, noting on their journal’s About page:
In the Thomson Reuters’ 2011 Journal Citation Index Report JEOS:RP achieved an impact factor of 1.019 – which is a substantial increase from the value of 0.787 in 2009.
The marzipan in question is Niederegger, but it’s not clear whether it’s the Blood Orange Loaf of the Year listed on Amazon for $11.50. A lack of specificity about the flavoring may be a failing of this attempt to secure more citations — is it almond, chocolate, blood orange, or apricot? One is left to speculate, and this uncertainty may have left some respondents unmoved.
Niederegger marzipan sounds particularly enticing, however, based on the White Marzipan Loaf’s description:
- Niederegger is the only marzipan using 100% quality marzipan paste, no others compare
- They have won over 30 Gold medals and numerous prizes for their production of the world’s best marzipan
- The packaging along with the best ingredients used make Nideregger the market leader it is today
- This is a loaf of pure white marzipan to be eaten by a person with discerning taste
While the marzipan angle gives this attempt to influence editorial behavior a certain endearing quality, pointedly requesting additional self-serving citations is clearly inappropriate, especially when underscored by the postscript clarifying exactly what the author intended.
After this email was distributed, its author was contacted, and the problematic nature of the request for citations pointed out. The email and request were quickly withdrawn, which is only proper.
A satisfying conclusion, you may think. But one question remains:
What’s going to happen to that unclaimed marzipan?