Monday, February 13, 2012

Coercive citations

Suppose you had submitted a paper to a journal ("Journal-X") and you got this message from the editor: "You only cite Journal-X once. Consequently, we kindly ask you to add references of articles published in Journal-X to your present article." Would you comply? This is known as "coercive citation," something I had never heard of until I read the latest issue of Science:

Wilhite, Allen W. and Eric A. Fong  (2012)  Coercive Citation in Academic Publishing. Science 335:542-543.

It seems that this practice is rampant in the fields of business research. These authors did a thorough study with lots of interviews with authors and studies of journals in several fields. At least some authors in every field considered (social sciences and business) reported attempts a coercive citation, but there was considerable variation. They took economics journals as the standard for regression analysis, and found that contributors to journals in marketing, management, finance, and information systems were 15 to 20% more likely to have been coerced like this. Contributors to journals in sociology and psychology were 5 to 10% LESS likely to have been coerced.

Why does this happen? So that journals can increase their impact factor. One interesting finding: authors in the business fields don't generally think this is quite such a bad practice, whereas authors in psychology and sociology were really outraged about this. I'm sure archaeologists would also be outraged. We can whine and complain about archaeology journals, but at least they aren't engaging in coercive citations (at least I have never encountered any evidence of this).

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