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Brazilian Journals' Self-Citation Cartel Smashed 68

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the degree-in-science-seo-proves-worthless dept.
ananyo writes "Thomson Reuters has uncovered a Brazilian self-citation cartel in which editors of journals cited each other to boost their impact factors. The cartel grew out of frustration with the system for evaluating graduate programs, which places too much emphasis on publishing in 'top tier' journals, one of the editors claims. As emerging Brazilian journals are in the lowest ranks, few graduates want to publish in them. This vicious cycle, in his view, prevents local journals improving. Both the Brazilian education ministry and Thomson Reuters have censured the journals. The ministry says articles from the journals published in 2012-12 will not count in any future assessment, and Thomson Reuters has suspended their impact factors."
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Brazilian Journals' Self-Citation Cartel Smashed

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  • by QilessQi (2044624) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:00AM (#44695541)

    ...and my first thought was: Wow! How many zeros in a brazillion?

  • Isn't it ironic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:02AM (#44695561)

    Metrics influence journals more than journals influence metrics.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You're not wrong, and it is not just impact factor metrics and the like either. I know of at least one university in Brazil which rates prospective employees publishing history uses a scoring system to which heavily encourages both publishing in Brazilian journals, and salami slicing - that is, breaking up a piece of work into lots of smaller less significant papers to boost your stats, rather than putting out a single good quality paper.

  • by sinij (911942) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:06AM (#44695593) Journal
    Tier 1 journals do the same. It is open secret that you are more likely to get published if you heavily citing papers from the journal.

    Impact factors, publish or perish, and pay walled articles means that a lot of shoddy "science" is going on out of public's eye. In a small field you are not going to rock the boat when your college is pushing out questionable papers. Sure, if you get selected to review the paper you can push back, but then you get to known by editors as "difficult one" and excluded in the future. Back when I worked in science more than half papers were unreproducible, meaning they collected data until significance then wrote paper around it.

    More = Better mentality has to go. We do not push boundary of our knowledge by verbiage and fishing expeditions.
    • Is that all you have to do to get excluded from reviewing? I keep rejecting papers and they keep sending me more and more to review.

      • by rmstar (114746)

        Is that all you have to do to get excluded from reviewing? I keep rejecting papers and they keep sending me more and more to review.

        My experience with this kind of thing is that cultures vary hugely between fields. And within these cultures, there is a lot of variability in what people experience due to plain randomness. So that is that. Also, it might be that you write decent reviews and well motivated rejections, while others do not. But who knows? Nobody is telling you, and you are not asking either.

        One

    • by damitr (1795258)
      Yes, rightly said so. And in most of the cases it is considered to be "good" to cite from "respectable" journals. Who wants citations from obscure journals nobody has heard about?
      • by sinij (911942)
        This is not what I meant, and you know it. You are more likely to get accepted into a specific journal if you heavily cite papers from this specific journal outside of the merits of said paper.
    • Any metric is going to have flaws. Not to say we can't get a BETTER metric, just know that every way we judge scientists has pitfalls. People will game the system no matter what. And we're obviously not going to bother trying to understand each scientist's body of research. That would be too hard!
  • Not surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:07AM (#44695599)

    Science publishing is totally broken. Brazilians were just emulating the behavior of western Europe, China, and North America. The only difference is that we have practised this stupid game for much longer and we are better at not getting caught.

  • Paper quality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:14AM (#44695647) Journal
    Well, it takes much more work, but would have worked a lot better if editors focused on paper quality instead. Doing a good review (a review which really helps the authors to improve the quality of their research) is a lot of hard work. I still don't understand why mostly it's unpaid. They could go as far as paying the reviewers proportionally to the number of (real) citations, obtained by the reviewed paper, in two years after the publication. That would really encourage doing good reviews, and helping the authors.

    The system is broken, but few people outside university realize how badly it is broken. I did some reviews, but I prefer to not, because there is no reward, and my time is better spent on actual research. Also it happened to me once, that I recommended rejecting a paper and I worked hard to write a good review, and the paper was published nevertheless with only few things corrected. How that journal expects to have a high citation rate is beyond me. Yes I understand that the reviewers work is for free and for the sake of humanity, but the level to which it is exploited by journals is just outrageous. I feel much better developing open source software, which is also done for free and for the sake of humanity, becuase nobody exploits me doing this.

    This cartel is not the only one. And more of this will happen in near future until some kind of revolution will take place. Moving toward open access is a good direction and I hope that it will take part in revolutionizing the pulication mechanisms.

    Oh well, I hope that more scandalous things like this one will resurface, which will tell people that a reform is needed. And maybe something that encourages quality and not cheating will be discovered....
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Doing a good review (a review which really helps the authors to improve the quality of their research) is a lot of hard work. I still don't understand why mostly it's unpaid."

      Even though doing a good review is indeed a lot of hard work (my goal is to improve the paper even if I disagree with it), the idea of getting paid for it would lead to even worse abuses. I would refuse such money if it were offered. If you can't see ways in which such a financial incentive could be abused, then you aren't being ima

      • That's true. Excluding citations done by rewiever and by the authors from the citation count is a basic thing. Howver I do not argue that this idea is a good one. This is why I concluded with "And maybe something that encourages quality and not cheating will be discovered...". I really hope that some system which makes it work will be devised.

        In PeerJ for example you can publish as long as you are doing reviews for PeerJ also. That seems to not conflict with your point of view, and sounds quite reasonabl
      • by Anonymous Coward

        More importantly, if the payment is based on the number of citations, you're encouraged to accept it even if it is crap, because a paper that gets not published will certainly get zero citations. A crap paper that is published will likely get a few citations from other papers by the same author or somebody in the same group. And even if not, you're not worse off than if the paper wasn't published at all.

        Also, if you get a paper for review that cites another paper you reviewed, you'd be more inclined to acce

      • by cyn1c77 (928549)

        "Doing a good review (a review which really helps the authors to improve the quality of their research) is a lot of hard work. I still don't understand why mostly it's unpaid."

        Even though doing a good review is indeed a lot of hard work (my goal is to improve the paper even if I disagree with it), the idea of getting paid for it would lead to even worse abuses. I would refuse such money if it were offered. If you can't see ways in which such a financial incentive could be abused, then you aren't being imaginative enough (e.g., citing the paper yourself to boost the amount you'll get paid, or if that's not allowed because it is too obvious, asking other people to do so). The paper should be published based on merit. Merit should be evaluated independent of any financial concerns.

        Interesting line of logic.

        Should we also stop paying scientists to do research? Because they also have personal financial incentive to abuse their analysis.

        When I review a paper, it can take a day or more to do a properly documented, thorough review. Why should I not be compensated for that if I do it on my own time? Do you think I enjoy trying: (1) to figure out what the researchers did, (2) to get them to reference the 20 prior related studies that they ignored, (3) correcting their language syntax, an

  • Is everything in south america called a cartel now?

    • Actually the word fits quite nicely here, because they were competing journals working together. By definition: "A cartel is a formal (explicit) "agreement" among competing firms. It is a formal organization of producers and manufacturers that agree to fix prices, marketing, and production.[1] Cartels usually occur in an oligopolistic industry"

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartel [wikipedia.org]
      • by DarthVain (724186)

        Or they could have a smidgen of sensitivity and break out a thesaurus.

        Besides, these are individuals, not firms or companies, or groups acting together, nor are they price fixing or anything like that. They are simply improperly citing each other to boost their profile and readership. I have no doubt "Cartel" was used not for its definition but for is "sexiness" in a headline, which is what prompted my remark.

  • by FuzzNugget (2840687) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:25AM (#44695733)
    Link farms in meatspace.
  • by OzPeter (195038) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:38AM (#44695845)

    Please read TFA. TFS makes it look like a problem in Brazil when in fact it is a lot wider than that. From TFA

    Four Brazilian journals were among 14 to have their impact factors suspended for a year for such stacking

    Each year, Thomson Reuters detects and cracks down on excessive self-citation. This year alone, it red-flagged 23 more journals for the wearily familiar practice

    The journals flagged by the new algorithm extend beyond Brazil — but only in that case has an explanation for the results emerged.

    What happened in the cases of the other ten journals censured for citation stacking is unclear. One involves a close pattern of citations between three Italian journals (International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents and European Journal of Inflammation) all with the same editor-in-chief, Pio Conti, an immunologist at the University of Chieti-Pescara.

    In another case, review articles with hundreds of references to Science China Life Sciences were meant not to lift its impact factor, but to clarify confusions after a rebranding and to “promote the newly reformed journal to potential new readers”

    In a further case, the Journal of Instrumentation saw hundreds of cross-citations from papers authored in SPIE Proceedings by Ryszard Romaniuk, an electronic engineer who was part of the collaboration that put together the CMS experiment in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN

    And finally

    The journals currently suspended for either self-citation or citation stacking represent only 0.6% of the 10,853 in Thomson Reuters’ respected directory.

  • There was nothing physically smashed. I got all excited that someone stormed into a server room and physically destroyed things in a tittilating and completely unnecessary way. What the heck, man!?
  • That sounds like something from Monty Python. Like the Archeology Today sketch, or even better, the Secret Service Dentists sketch.
  • by Sentrion (964745) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @01:10PM (#44697865)

    That's how Capitalism works. It's also the core bread-and-butter advice you get from SEO consultants.

    How is it that much different than the mutual self-promotion of board members and executives in most American corporations? If you look to see who is on the board of directors of top companies, you will find executives from other top companies. Then they sit around on each other's boards and vote each other exhorbitant compensation at the expenses of consumers (no price cuts but lower quality), employees (declining wages and offshoring jobs), and even investors (how has your 401k performed over the past 10 years? CEO pay since 2009 has increased 38%). Not convinced? How about some anecdotes:

    Miles D. White is the CEO of Abbot Laboratories. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of McDonald's, Caterpillar Inc., Northwestern Memorial Hospital and MediSense.
    Marc Benioff is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, salesforce.com, inc. He sits on the Board of Directors of Cisco.
    Greg Brown is Chairman and CEO, Motorola Solutions, Inc. He also sits on the Board of Directors of Cisco.
    Marissa A. Mayer is the President and CEO of Yahoo!, Inc.. She also sits on the Board of Directors of Walmart.
    Ursula M. Burns is the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Xerox. She is also on the boards for American Express and Exxon Mobile.

    The list goes on. In fact, you can see these details right on most company websites. It is quite uncommon to find board members who are not sitting on other boards of public companies while also serving as CEO of some other big corporation. They also serve as presidents and trustees of universities, industry groups, charities, hospitals, schools, and other non-profits, as well as even some government agencies, think tanks or advisory groups. So, pretty much all of your for-profit and non-profit leadership positions are occupied by a select group of well connected self-appointed aristocrats.

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