How much can a single editor distort the citation record? Ivan Oransky at Retraction Watch has been tracking the fallout of Artemi Cerdà, the recently departed Editor-in-Chief of Land Degradation & Development (LDD) and editorial board member of several journals in the geophysical sciences.

The allegation? Setting up a citation cartel.

The European Geosciences Union (EGU) undertook a detailed investigation of Cerdà along with several other EGU editors to determine the extent of the damage.

Citation coercion is not a new phenomenon in academic publishing

As topical editor and reviewer, Cerdà handled 82 manuscripts for two EGU journals: Solid Earth and SOIL. For half of these manuscripts, he suggested that authors add a total of 622 additional references, mostly to LDD. In one case, he suggested that an author add 53 references to a manuscript. Authors complied with 399 of these citation requests, according to the investigation report. In his role as reviewer, Cerdà also suggested that authors add 423 additional references to LDD and other journals.

The collective effect of his coercion resulted in a massive increase of LDD‘s Impact Factor, from 3.089 in 2014 to 8.145 in 2015, according to the Journal Citation Report. Some of this rise can be attributed to self-citation, which accounted for one-third (33%) of its 2015 Impact Factor. In 2016, self-citation will account for almost half (49%) of its Impact Factor. Before Cerdà assumed the role of Editor-in-Chief in 2013, self-citation accounted for just 1% of LDD’s Impact Factor.

Using VOSViewer, I mapped the influence of citations from other journals on LDD‘s Impact Factor. The following graph was constructed by conducting a cited-by-search in the Web of Science and limiting the results to papers that were citing LDD papers published in the prior two years — the window from which the Impact Factor is constructed. Journals under which Cerdà had influence are highlighted in red. [Note: The Web of Science does not index all EGU publications. SOIL and ESurf are excluded.]


Editor coerces authors to cite journal, papers.
Figure 1. Impact Factor-directed citations to Land Degradation & Development, 2015-2016.

Solid Earth, for which Cerdà handled 76 manuscripts, cited LDD a total of 761 times in 2015 and 2016, 411 (54%) of which counted towards LDD‘s Impact Factor.

Outside the Impact Factor window, citations to Cerdà’s own papers (ORCID ID: 0000-0001-5326-4489) has has more than quadrupled during his editorship, from 243 citations in 2012 to 1,084 in 2016, according to the Web of Science.

While Cerdà’s actions have had a huge effect on the performance of LDD and his own publications, he appears to have acted alone, as the European Geosciences Union’s investigation concludes:

From our analysis it appears that only one editor, Artemi Cerdà, violated our ethical rule that “any manipulation of citations (e.g. including citations not contributing to a manuscript’s scientific content, citations solely aiming at increasing an author’s or a journal’s citations) is regarded as scientific malpractice.” There is no indication that other editors would have violated relevant ethical rules, and there is no evidence that a group of editors would have formed a “cartel” to boost citations to their journals.

While the European Geosciences Union could not identify more than one editor engaging in coercive citation behavior, its investigation was limited to EGU journals. The publisher has informed Wiley, publisher of LDD, and Elsevier, publisher of Catena and Geoderma, of their findings.

Citation coercion is not a new phenomenon in academic publishing. A large author survey in the social sciences indicated that one-in-five respondents were coerced by editors to cite more papers without specifying relevant articles or indicating that their manuscripts were lacking in attribution.

While other EGU editors have been cleared of any wrongdoing, the investigation clearly hurt the reputations of fellow editorial board members on affected journals. The executive editor of SOIL voluntarily resigned from his post, stating that “given recent events I feel that my continued presence on the SOIL editorial board would become a distraction that is not in the best interests of the journal.”

If LDD, SOIL, Solid Earth, Catena, and other journals are de-listed from the upcoming 2016 Journal Citation Reportauthors will be the real victims in this multi-vessel shipwreck.


Phil Davis

Phil Davis

Phil Davis is an independent researcher and publishing consultant specializing in the statistical analysis of citation, readership, publication and survey data. He has a Ph.D. in science communication from Cornell University (2010), extensive experience as a science librarian (1995-2006) and was trained as a life scientist. His research has focused on the on the dissemination of scientific information, rewards and incentives in academic publishing, and economic issues related to libraries, authors and publishers.

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14 Thoughts on "Citation Cartel Or Editor Gone Rogue?"

Certainly Artemi went Rogue, but how come it was never detected when he has handled and reviewed handled 82 manuscripts? Especially the reviews and edits are very weak, almost fake reviews, systematically recommending authors the addition of some references in their manuscripts.
Some examples below (thanks to open access and interactive discussion)
Artemi noted: I wish to suggest some recent publications to be cited to make the paper even more updated and helpful
This is happily endorsed by Executive Editor: “Dear authors, please see the technical corrections suggested by the Topical Editor. Kind regards. Jorge”

More examples of Artemi’s easy citation recommendation reviews in Solid Earth as a platform to increase the number of LDD citations:

“The collective effect of his coercion resulted in a massive increase of LDD‘s Impact Factor, from 3.089 in 2014 to 8.145 in 2015, according to the Journal Citation Report.”
Even a journal impact factor of 3.1 is on the high side for a regional, specialty journal, which are commonly below 2, and even below 1 for many reputable, niche journals.

To look at this, I created a CiteScore comparison chart for 3 journals associated with the editor’s citation coercion, and a control, also a regional soil-science journal (Soil Science Society of America Journal). It shows a marked increase between 2013 and 2014. (Sorry, I don’t have access to JCR, but CiteScore is correlated with JIR. Since CiteScore uses a 3-year averaging period compared to JIR’s 2-year averaging period, the CS scores don’t change as much year to year (2.0X increase vs 2.6X increase for JIR).

A colleague was grumbling that an editor had accepted his article but asked him to add more citations to recent articles in the journal. Our exchange went sort of like this:

Me – “Give me the email, I’ll sanitize it and submit it to TR, bust him, and get the journal on probation. Put a stop to that monkey business!

Him – “Oh no, don’t do that. I just got my article published there, and I listed it in my promotion package. I want higher impact factor too, not lower. I’ve published there before. It would be a disaster if the journal got delisted.”

Oh what conflicted creatures we are.

Oops, hazards of writing in a jif. Not JIR, JIF. JIF is the Journal Impact Factor which is from the JCR (Journal Citation Reports). JIR was the much beloved Journal of Irreproducible Results. The JIR seems to have fallen into decline, but irreproducible results are going strong and thrive in all journals. Alphabet soup.

Nature and all the highly impact factor journals follow similar practice where in each journal issue there is a lot of internal citations. Take a look at any Nature issue and look at short-article types (Letters, Comments, Correspondence, etc) you will find a lot of citations to other papers published in Nature itself. As a result, the impact factor is high because those short article types are taken into account only in the number of citations they generate (in the numerator only) but not in the number of total citable items (denominator). Consequently, the impact factor of Nature considerably amplified. The same applies to other journals of high values of the impact factor.

OK, so now we know that the editor was rogue, that he was not acting alone, and that this was part of a citation ring. So, I have a few questions:
a) Will this editor be suffering any consequences at his research institute, or is this type of activity considered to be academically kosher? If he is allowed to maintain his position, then what precedent would be set, and what example would be set by going unpunished?
b) So, Artemi Cerdà has been sacked from a Wiley journal and an Elsevier journal. But these journals benefited, both financially, and in terms of bloated metrics. How will the journals be punished? For example, will Clarivate Analytics ban them for 1 or 2 years?

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