Welcome To The Club

Don’t be misled by citation figures! (26)
by Ralf Neumann, Labtimes 06/2010

Journal Tuning

There was once an editor; in fact, he was still a young researcher and, therefore, it hadn’t been long since he had taken up this role. It had been his first appeal to an editorial board and that had made him particularly proud. He couldn’t help but take it as a direct appreciation of his research and, moreover, as a sort of official affiliation to a certain imaginary “club”, whatever its nature.

He was about to attend his first meeting with the entire board, in which, as usual, the Editorial Policy should be critically checked and the journal’s priorities refocused. Our young man was impressed by the efficiency of how the experienced researchers and longtime editors got straight to the heart of every single issue. In a word, everything was as he had imagined.

Essentially, the journal’s position regarding the issue of publication ethics seemed clean and clear-cut. In the days of “publish or perish” and increasingly aggressive competition between journals, this was particularly important to our young editor. “No doubt, everything is on the right track here,” he proudly thought, “and I am part of it.”

However, the icing on the cake was yet to come. The Editor-in-Chief surprised our young man by suddenly taking him aside. With smooth words he assured him that he was very pleased with his previous work. However, there was just one suggestion he wanted to warmly recommend for the near future: every now and then, he should firmly suggest to the authors of the manuscripts in review that they include one or the other article from their own journal in the reference lists. “This will lift our impact factor,” he conspiratorially winked at him, sipped his drink and discreetly disappeared.

Our young editor couldn’t quite believe his ears. He stared into his drink and decided that the Chief Editor must have been joking. Yes, of course, after all hadn’t there always been rumours about his “very special” sense of humour?

And so he continued to do his job the way he had always done and received no complaints from anybody – until the next of the editorial board meeting took place. This time, the Chief Editor made a bee-line for him during the first break – without a drink and looking decidedly more agitated than on the previous occasion. Obviously, our young editor hadn’t followed his advice; he came straight to the point: it shouldn’t be too difficult to send the authors some clear signals that the acceptance of their articles is solely dependent on the addition of one or the other appropriate reference from their journal. If necessary, the Chief Ed continued, he could just pretend that the anonymous referees had insisted on it in their reviews. After all, the other editors were all handling it this way.

That really blew our young man away. He needed clarity. From then on, he took every opportunity to confidentially query the colleagues he knew better about this matter. The picture that manifested over the following months troubled him deeply. Not only did many of his colleagues act as demanded under pressure from the Chief Editor. There were even several instances, where editors had arbitrarily added some desired references to the articles without knowledge of the authors – and all for the sake of the journal’s impact factor.

“No, no! Not with me,” thought our young editor, defiantly. A year later he was dismissed by the Chief Editor.

And the moral of the story? Well, there is none because a case like this actually happened. Read for yourself in the 2003 report of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) on page 63. It’s called “Case 01/03C” (http://publicationethics.org/static/2003/2003pdfcomplete.pdf).

Last Changed: 03.05.2012

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