The growth of impact factors in academia continues to rise in usage and importance regardless of the controversial nature behind many of the indicators used. They are currently one of the main ways used to judge scholars on the performance of their research. The idea is to take both quantitative and qualitative measures and turn them into a mathematical formula that assigns a rating to the researcher. But there are loopholes in the system that can be worked by anyone who focuses more on the legal aspect of the ethical.
This formulaic equation allows for the intrusion of coercive citation into the otherwise neutral field of academics. Coercive citation is the practice of having the author add citations, of their own or of the journal itself, to their work by demand of the editor or risk getting their article rejected.
The Importance of Impact on a Scholar’s Rating
Many studies have proven that the field of scholars is a high-stress one. Those in higher education settings often have increased stress and depression, as well as other mental health issues. Decreased social lives and motivation may lead to scholar fatigue and burnout. But the higher a scholar’s rating, the more prestigious the work they can attain is, pulling them out of the cycle of increased expectations, higher workloads, and global competition for the best jobs. It’s no wonder, then, with these pressures at stake, that some scholars become tempted to work the loopholes in the system in their favor in order to fast-track their goals to a less stressful position in their career.
Although it’s not hidden, those in the field of academics have the expectation immediately thrust upon them to meet increasingly higher standards, above reproach professionally and personally. They must continue to engage in research with published findings while also being exemplary in their instructional duties in and beyond the classroom. The reward for all of this hard work comes slowly, but eventually, indicators of esteem include higher publication rates, impactful citation indicators, invitations to put on academic conferences or attend as a keynote speaker, and other prestigious labels. With these esteemed traits comes career benefits such as a smoother path to tenure, promotions and merit pay, and special privileges that those without such a high scholarly rating would be denied access to.
If all a scholar needs to do to get to those stages is to bump up their citations, it’s easy to see why it’s becoming a more common practice.
What Are Coercive Citations?
Coercive self-citation is an action that follows a request from the editors of a publication. When you submit your work and receive feedback, there may be an overlying message to the requests that you are being asked to address that basically say, ‘fix this or your work will not be published.’
The coercive citation comes in forms like:
● Suggestions that you add citations from the journal you are trying to get published in
● Requests for you to add citations but don’t offer areas as to where you need further referencing
● Requests that you add citations without suggesting specific articles or authors that you were, in essence, plagiarizing from
If an editor is going to suggest that you use more citations, they should have specific reasoning behind their request other than the fact that you didn’t cite enough sources.
Strategies to Avoid This Technique
There are legitimate reasons an editor will request you to add more references. Legitimate publication sources give clear instructions before the peer review process on how the paper should look and ways it can be improved. One of these suggestions will typically deal with the citations. But when the request is a matter of coercive citation, the peer review process doesn’t document any actual part of the research review where there was insufficient evidence pointing to the outcome or an area where the document was lacking enough attribution. Peer reviews will also notice areas of plagiarism and suggest you cite the referencing author accordingly. Unethical requests to include citations ask you to reference the editor’s publications or fail to provide sufficient explanation as to why you need more resources.
This manner of coercing citations is usually attempted more by editors when they know the researcher is new to the field or young. The fear of rejection or the concern that they missed a step that was necessary often convinces these authors to comply without asking many questions. Now that these early career researchers are on their own, there is no one to turn to as a consistent regulatory form of questions and complaints.
To avoid adding coercive citations, recognize what they look like and find a senior researcher who can help you with guiding you through these questionable scenarios. They will let you know whether it’s a legitimate request or whether it is something that should be reported to the publishing institution at a higher-up level.