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Researchers Feel Pressure To Cite Superfluous Papers 107

ananyo writes "One in five academics in a variety of social science and business fields say they have been asked to pad their papers with superfluous references in order to get published. The figures, from a survey published in the journal Science (abstract), also suggest that journal editors strategically target junior faculty, who in turn were more willing to acquiesce. The controversial practice is not new: those studying publication ethics have for many years noted that some editors encourage extra references in order to boost a journal's impact factor (a measure of the average number of citations an article in the journal receives over two years). But the survey is the first to try to quantify what it calls 'coercive citation,' and shows that this is 'uncomfortably common.' Perhaps the most striking finding of the survey was that although 86% of the respondents said that coercion was inappropriate, and 81% thought it damaged a journal's prestige, 57% said they would add superfluous citations to a paper before submitting it to a journal known to coerce. However, figures from Thomson Reuters suggest that social-science journals tend to have more self-citations than basic-science journals."
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Researchers Feel Pressure To Cite Superfluous Papers

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 04, 2012 @01:11AM (#38924477)

    The surest way to get something on Wikipedia, is get something published then cite it. Accuracy notwithstanding.

  • Metrics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rknop ( 240417 ) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @01:32AM (#38924551) Homepage

    This is what happens when you have metrics. You create a metric like "impact factor", and before long people will figure out ways to maximize "impact factor" that have nothing to do what the metric was originally supposed to measure. Hyperfocusing on metrics like that ends up undermining the things you really value in favor of increasing your scores.

    This happens all over the place. Games in every game find ways to increase their score in ways that the game designers wouldn't really consider valid. Universities do things simply to make their "US News" ratings go up, not because they will make themselves better. Students figure out ways to raise their grades that have nothing to do with mastering the material of the course. Heck, the entire US (and world?) economy suffers from this; the most reliably rich people are the ones who manipulate money transactions, and do absolutely nothing with the underlying reality that money is supposed to be an abstract representation of.

    People strive to improve the things that they are rewarded for and that they are evaluated on. When you focus too much on the wrong thing, people will do the wrong things in response.

  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @01:39AM (#38924567) Homepage Journal

    I have bad news for you ... dig deep enough, and you find out all the other 'sciences' suffer from exactly the same problems.

  • by Mr Thinly Sliced ( 73041 ) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @01:57AM (#38924647) Homepage Journal

    dig deep enough, and you find out all the other 'sciences' suffer from exactly the same problems.

    As a recovering Mathematician I take issue with that.

    Hint: There is one science founded (mostly) on logic that doesn't let reality get in the way of quality navel gazing.

  • Happened to Me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @02:13AM (#38924727) Homepage

    I put together an economics paper and sent it around to a few PhDs I know. Two of them came back with the exact response that this article indicates; "It needs more references if you want to get published." I asked if the math, logic, or conclusions were off, both responded they were not, but that was not the point. They made it clear that to get published it had to have more references to existing work, regardless of the content.

    I can come up with arguments why such a policy has some merit -- keeping wacky stuff like modern monetary theory's hypothesis that there is no such thing as too much debt from distracting researchers, for example -- but good, bad, or indifferent; the fact that there is a barrier to papers which do not pay homage to existing academics is very real.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 04, 2012 @04:32AM (#38925175)

    not necessarily ... wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a research platform. also decent normal encyclopedias have citations to where they get their knowledge from or will tell you on request. So, for an encyclopedia citations are everything (so number of citations could be a decent measure)

    however, number of citations is not a good measure for articles that produce original research, as the field they research might be rather narrow or the article might be written as an answer to another article, verifying or falsifying it's claims, so you might end up with only a handful of quotes, but that doesnt make the article less important.

  • Re:Happened to Me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 04, 2012 @04:41AM (#38925207)

    Yes, but that's not what the problem is. It's not about "paying homage", it's about being honest about the novelty of your work. Academic publishing is not a no-holds-barred debate. Every paper is expected to present a balanced view of the subject at hand, even if the author has a particular point of view they want to get across. This is why we have a peer review process. There is a reason for accurately representing previous work.

    The problem that the article discusses is specifically *irrelevant* citations added for suspicious reasons. That is a different problem.

  • by ancienthart ( 924862 ) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @04:56AM (#38925277)
    At Griffith University, Australia, we took a "Philosophy of Science" subject as part of the degree - mostly based on the philosophy of Karl Popper.

    Basically, Science is:
    Falsifiable and

    I've always found this definition useful.
  • by korean.ian ( 1264578 ) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @05:40AM (#38925429)

    it's important to recognize that there is a great diversity in the opinions of professional economists

    Thus proving that it's not science, but simply people pushing their personal opinions draped in the prestige of science.

    Oh I forgot there are no differing opinions in science. I guess Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins agree completely on how evolution works.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 04, 2012 @06:10AM (#38925503)

    Yes. I remember a lot of articles or sections of articles citing Medical Hypotheses and other junk journals. They were eventually challenged and killed, but new ones would always crop up. It felt like a losing battle :\

  • Re:Metrics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mapkinase ( 958129 ) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @07:10AM (#38925757) Homepage Journal

    "their own system" nope.

    Perceived word of mouth reputation of journals preceded impact factor. I do not know who decided to use impact factor as a main measure of a journal, but I take an insult in the fact that you called them "academics"

  • by theguyfromsaturn ( 802938 ) on Saturday February 04, 2012 @10:20AM (#38926523)

    Because an economy is a lot like an ecosystem. You eliminate the regulators (like, say the predators), in an ecosystem and you get populations booms followed by population collapse when the resources are depleted. Sometimes to extinction. Regulation is good in that it prevents this boom and bust scenario. Guess what the economic system advocated by conventional economists looks like? Boom and bust the whole length. The periods of stability in between have usually come as governments start enforcing regulations after a pariticularly boom and bust event has left a good part of the population in hardship. Then over time people forget. Little by little regulations are dropped, and of course so arrives a period of apparent prosperity (the boom phase) during which we are lured into dropping more and more regulations because obviously regulations are hampering this prosperity. Of course, it can't last. Without the moderation provided by regulation we enter this boom phase, that once all the suckers at the bottom of this pyramidal scheme have contributed can only end in a bust. Then we start talking of regulation again (which is needed).

    Until we get rid of the models that advocate the "deregulate" point of view, we have no chance of getting out of this history of boom and bust. Current economic models encourage waste (we've dilapidated in a couple of generations all the energy wealth stored up over millions of years). That's hardly "economic" if it's wasteful. Boom and bust cycles, and chronic waste are a sure proof that accepted economic models are broken.

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