BJP pulls a neat little self-citation trick

September 24, 2013

As far as I can tell, the British Journal of Pharmacology has taken to requiring that authors who use animal subjects conduct their studies in accordance with the “ARRIVE” (Animals in Research: Reporting In Vivo Experiments) principles. These are conveniently detailed in their own editorial:

McGrath JC, Drummond GB, McLachlan EM, Kilkenny C, Wainwright CL.Guidelines for reporting experiments involving animals: the ARRIVE guidelines.Br J Pharmacol. 2010 Aug;160(7):1573-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00873.x.

and paper on the guidelines:

Kilkenny C, Browne W, Cuthill IC, Emerson M, Altman DG; NC3Rs Reporting Guidelines Working Group.Animal research: reporting in vivo experiments: the ARRIVE guidelines. Br J Pharmacol. 2010 Aug;160(7):1577-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00872.x.

The editorial has been cited 270 times. The guidelines paper has been cited 199 times so far and the vast, vast majority of these are in, you guessed it, the BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHARMACOLOGY.

One might almost suspect the journal now has a demand that authors indicate that they have followed these ARRIVE guidelines by citing the 3 page paper listing them. The journal IF is 5.067 so having an item cited 199 times since it was published in the August 2010 issue represents a considerable outlier. I don’t know if a “Guidelines” category of paper (as this is described on the pdf) goes into the ISI calculation. For all we know they had to exempt it. But why would they?

And I notice that some other journals seem to have published the guidelines under the byline of the self same authors! Self-Plagiarism!!!

Perhaps they likewise demand that authors cite the paper from their own journal?

Seems a neat little trick to run up an impact factor, doesn’t it? Given the JIT and publication rate of real articles in many journals, a couple of hundred extra cites in the sampling interval can have an effect on the JIT.

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11 Responses to “BJP pulls a neat little self-citation trick”

  1. Pat Says:

    The International Journal of Cardiology did something similar in 2009.

    “From January 1, 2009 we will be requiring all papers published in the Journal to carry a statement that all authors adhere to our principles of ethical publishing and to cite and agree to the statement of ethical publishing listed below…”

    The editorial can be found here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167527308012266

    This editorial has been cited 2101 times (google scholar).

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  2. dsks Says:

    They couldn’t be that brazen, could they? I mean, padding your rag with reviews at least provides the illusion of propriety… requiring a mandatory citation is just taking the piss. One can only hope that this is a crafty effort by society journals to make such a transparent mockery of the IF that it is simply no longer tenable to use as a metric for impact.

    I mean, the irony of cooking the citation figures by forcing authors to cite a paper on appropriate ethical conduct … it’s just too ridiculous. It has to be joke. It must.

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  3. Mike_F Says:

    This kind of behavior can have unpleasant consequences for the journal – see e.g. http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2011/10/17/gaming-the-impact-factor-puts-journal-in-time-out/

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  4. Cynric Says:

    Even more brazen: their author guidelines *require* you to confirm (by citation) that you have used the nomenclature of the Guide to Receptors and Channels (GRAC), published in… BJP!

    It’s almost admirable in its disdain for the value of IF.

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  5. Cynric Says:

    I mean, the irony of cooking the citation figures by forcing authors to cite a paper on appropriate ethical conduct … it’s just too ridiculous. It has to be joke. It must.

    Is it unethical? Or is it an indication that we’ve overvalued IF as a metric and forgotten what citation is actually for?

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to publish guidelines for in vivo experiments and nomenclature, and insist that authors state “we have met these [cited] standards”.
    No way for the authors to wriggle out of their obligations if they have cited the specific instructions.

    Now clearly, bumping IF also has pleasant consequences for the journal in ranking systems, but I’m not sure it’s fair to assume that was their primary goal.

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  6. Ola Says:

    Huh. We got a paper accepted into this journal not long ago, and I don’t recall being asked to do this. We haven’t received proofs yet, so we might be asked at that stage to add the citation. It’s certainly not mentioned during the online submission process.

    The true measure of whether they’re really doing this to game the IF or the other metrics such as “immediacy”, will be if the ethical statement gets updated every couple of years, so they’re driving citation of a publication in a fairly recent issue of the journal. If they just let this document sit for the next 20 years and cite the bajeebus out of it, then it might indicate less motive to game the metrics. My money is on them issuing regular updates, under the guise of remaining current with state-of-the-art ethical practices in publishing.

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  7. dsks Says:

    “The true measure of whether they’re really doing this to game the IF or the other metrics such as “immediacy”, will be if the ethical statement gets updated every couple of years, so they’re driving citation of a publication in a fairly recent issue of the journal. ”

    I might have misconstrued how IF is generated, but I don’t think it matters when the paper was published, does it? If it is garnering ~100s of citations every year from now on by virtue of the fact that 100s of authors have to sign off on this ethics clause before they can publish in this venue, then that’s 100 new citations towards each new year’s avg. It’s not going to turn an IF 2 into and IF 10, but it could make a difference betwen society journals jostling for ranking between the 3-5 range (BJP was 3.5 or something about ten years ago, which means their IF has been going strongly in the opposite direction to the general downward trend (which JBC has been a good barometer of, I think). That’s not an accusation of shenanigans, but it’s an interesting turnaround given the massive increase in publishing competition over that period.

    The question is whether journal ranking outfits like ISI penalize them for it as Mike_F’s link suggests they sometimes do.

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  8. Nat Says:

    “I might have misconstrued how IF is generated, but I don’t think it matters when the paper was published, does it? ”

    The generic “impact factor” only looks at the citations for papers published within the last 2 years. And it’s not even a rolling 2 years, just straight calendar dates- papers late in the year don’t count as much. So yeah, they’ll have to update it to truly game the IF.

    Though now I see a lot of “5 year impact factor” stuff pushed by some journals. I always thought the 2 year limit was more of an indicator of subtopic popularity.

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  9. dsks Says:

    I guess I should have Google/Wiki’d that before responding. My bad. Learn something every day.

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  10. Cynric Says:

    Huh. We got a paper accepted into this journal not long ago, and I don’t recall being asked to do this.

    wrt GRAC, we got the instruction in the acceptance email, but that was a few years ago now.

    Also, GRAC is updated regularly (yearly?), so would be likely to give a continual bump to IF. A quick ISI search on the latest (5th) edition shows a very long list of BJP papers (basically all of them). So that’s a few hundred cites a year.

    Older editions of GRAC are accumulating citations from lots of other journals, so it clearly does have value to the community regardless of IF shenanigans.

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  11. author Says:

    We made the statement about concordance with ARRIVE uncited, but then had these two citations inserted after acceptance of our manuscript. I cannot recall how it was accomplished by now but our final submitted manuscript version didn’t have it and the proof copy did have the citations. There was no query from the copy editor along the lines of “this citation has been inserted is it okay?” so I imagine the administrative offices simply inserted the cite.

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