Academia’s obsession with the journal impact factor has been a subject of debate for some time. Most would probably agree that it is useful as a crude measure of a journal’s prestige, quality, and general influence on a scientific or medical field but should not be over-interpreted. Nonetheless, some institutions go as far as disregarding a student’s or faculty member’s publications in journals with impact factors less than a certain number (often the magic number is 5) when it comes to performance evaluation, promotion, graduation, or hiring. Such overemphasis ignores that one journal with a lower impact factor may actually have more rigorous standards for acceptance of a paper than another with a higher impact factor. This situation may be observed for a variety of reasons, such as the degree of specialization of a journal or the ratio of review articles vs. original research papers. Another more nefarious contributor to a journal’s impact factor, manipulated citations, is also growing and threatening to expose the deepening cracks in the foundation of academia’s favorite metric.
Even if you accept the premise that the impact factor of journals is a useful indicator of quality, the obsession with publishing in impact factor journals is doing obvious damage to science and is fuelling questionable research practices. Citation rings are one manifestation of this. The use of papers from papermills is another. This open access paper, published in May 2023 looks at the issues.
In the simplest version, the authors cite each other’s work in individual papers, but it can become far more elaborate. These authors can create multiple fake reviewer accounts, allowing them to pose as various reviewers to favorably review their own papers and advocate for more citations of the ring’s work in their critiques. Journal editors can also be involved; in one such case, a journal editor allegedly requested that authors cite many of his own articles, sometimes asking for the addition of more than 50 citations.
However, at present, the majority of these efforts appear to be coming from paper mills.
Paper mills are businesses that manufacture manuscripts on studies that have never been performed, sell authorship on the manuscripts, and submit them to journals on behalf of the authors, often to multiple journals at the same time.
Bricker-Anthony, C., & Herzog, R. W. (2023). Distortion of journal impact factors in the era of paper mills. Molecular therapy : the journal of the American Society of Gene Therapy, 31(6), 1503–1504. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ymthe.2023.05.008
Publisher (Open Access): https://www.cell.com/molecular-therapy-family/molecular-therapy/fulltext/S1525-0016(23)00265-4#articleInformation