John Mashey points me to a blog post by Phil Davis on “the emergence of a citation cartel.” Davis tells the story:
Cell Transplantation is a medical journal published by the Cognizant Communication Corporation of Putnam Valley, New York. In recent years, its impact factor has been growing rapidly. In 2006, it was 3.482 [I think he means "3.5"---ed.]. In 2010, it had almost doubled to 6.204.
When you look at which journals cite Cell Transplantation, two journals stand out noticeably: the Medical Science Monitor, and The Scientific World Journal. According to the JCR, neither of these journals cited Cell Transplantation until 2010.
Then, in 2010, a review article was published in the Medical Science Monitor citing 490 articles, 445 of which were to papers published in Cell Transplantation. All 445 citations pointed to papers published in 2008 or 2009 — the citation window from which the journal’s 2010 impact factor was derived. Of the remaining 45 citations, 44 cited the Medical Science Monitor, again, to papers published in 2008 and 2009.
Three of the four authors of this paper sit on the editorial board of Cell Transplantation. Two are associate editors, one is the founding editor. The fourth is the CEO of a medical communications company.
Further details follow, but I think you get the picture.
The ease to which members of an editorial board were able to use a cartel of journals to influence their journal’s impact factor concerns me greatly because the cost to do so is very low, the rewards are astonishingly high, it is difficult to detect, and the practice can be facilitated very easily by overlapping editorial boards or through cooperative agreements between them. What’s more, editors can protect these “reviews” from peer review if they are labeled as “editorial material,” as some are. It’s the perfect strategy for gaming the system.
I’d think this sort of thing should be detectable using statistical analysis. This seems like the sort
of fight-fire-with-fire situation where there will be at least a partial
P.S. The discussion thread is worth reading too.
P.P.S. Lots more interesting stuff on that blog, for example this post by Kent Anderson disparaging open-access publishing.