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I have recently submitted some work we did with one of our PhD students to one of ASME's Journals and the editor rejected the paper on the spot (without sending it for review) because the submitted paper did not cite any paper from their journal. The editor was arguing that we should include recent papers from their journal so that they could find a suitable reviewer.

I would argue that this is likely just an excuse for getting the journal's impact factor up and I have strong ethical concerns with this journal if that is their practice. The editor should not have such editing power and that should be at the discretion of the authors. If they need a list of reviewers, I am happy to provide that, as is common practice in other journals I have submitted papers to in the past.

I did oblige in the end and added a few references and I am currently waiting for the outcome (interestingly, none of the references (all published in 2022 except for one which is from 2019) we included in our paper did cite any work from the same journal, which makes this request even odder, i.e. it seems this is either a new policy they have or our work is being singled out). I was very surprised initially and did not want to publish in that journal anymore given these poor academic practices but did not do so as this would just mean more work for my PhD student to reformat and resubmit the paper to a different journal which would be unfair on him. If that would have been my own work, I would have made it very clear to the editor that I disagree with this practice and that I would not be interested in getting published in their journal.

I am just wondering if other researcher had similar experiences and what they would do (or have done) in this situation? There must be some ethical standard that this goes against (?!). Either way, my take away message is that it is unlikely for me to consider ASME again in the future for publishing my work unless they improve their standards.

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    You may be right about it being unethical, but on the other hand: If the scope of the journal is a good fit for your paper it is likely that you would cite a few papers from the journal.
    – Louic
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 8:42
  • true (and we did just that in the end), but I am taking more of an issue in the way how we are forced to include it, but thanks for your input, good to hear other peoples thoughts on this
    – tom
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 12:57
  • Once it's accepted, you have the option of taking those references back out in the final version and seeing what they say.... Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 17:05
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    It is trivial to prove (by induction) that no journal with this policy has any earlier papers to cite...
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 19:04
  • Possible duplicate of academia.stackexchange.com/questions/83764/… Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 21:29

3 Answers 3

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Ultimately editors can reject for whatever reason, including "because it doesn't cite other papers from the journal".

You could argue that this is a poor reason to reject a paper, or that it is unethical. It sure gives the impression that the journal just wants to boost its impact factor after all (although there's a limit to how many self-citations a journal can have before it gets delisted by Clarivate, see e.g. this). But there are also more benign interpretations. The one given by the editor is such an interpretation, although it's a rather lazy reason, since one can still find reviewers, it's just that one has to register them in the system first.

Another benign interpretation is pointed out by Louic in the comments. If your paper is so unrelated to the journal's other papers such that none of them are worth citing, are you sure the journal is still a good fit? Like, suppose I submitted an astronomy paper to a food science journal. Obviously I won't be citing any food science papers, which results in the editor rejecting without review ("because it does not cite other papers from the journal"). Even without such a glaring mismatch, it could still be that your paper is more suited to another journal - for example, suppose your work builds on someone else's work. Perhaps you should submit to the journal that published the original work (why didn't you by the way?).

For your specific questions:

  • I've never encountered this.
  • I'd probably submit to another journal.
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    thanks for your thoughts and additional link. There are papers we can include from that journal (which we did in the end), as you (and Louic) mentioned, if it is a good fit they probably have relevant literature, but the way we are essentially "forced" to include it just doesn't sit right with me, it feels as if we are blackmailed into including their work. Anyways, I appreciated your input and thoughts on this, thanks!
    – tom
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 12:55
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    I disagree that there are benign interpretations. Neither of the examples you gave ring as anything other than a hollow excuse for knowingly unethical behavior.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 21:20
  • @DanRomik maybe you don’t work in an interdisciplinary field? I have received items to review where no papers from the journal were cited and it should have been a red flag that the authors totally ignored whole swaths of the literature. Now I check the reference list as a first pass to see if the authors “did their homework.”
    – Dawn
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 21:58
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    @Dawn it’s okay if that’s something that makes you suspicious that the authors are ignoring/unaware of the literature. In that case verify that that’s indeed the case, and reject the paper on that basis. I stand by what I said: rejecting purely on the grounds that the paper is not citing from the same journal, and not because of a deeper underlying issue (that you’ve checked is actually a problem), has no benign explanation.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 22:03
  • @Dawn I'm confused: are you saying that in some areas all papers on a given topic are in a specific journal? Otherwise I don't see why not referring to papers in a given journal (rather than not citing specific papers you know to be relevant) is a red flag.
    – Kimball
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:39
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The editor was arguing that we should include recent papers from their journal

Publishing in a journal that blatantly inflates its impact factor is bad for your reputation and bad for academia. Withdraw your paper and take it to a better journal.

so that they could find a suitable reviewer.

Finding a reviewer is really the only responsibility the editor is accountable for, in practice. This editor is announcing their incompetence by claiming they need help finding a reviewer.

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  • I am expecting to get comments from editors about all the things they do well in addition to choosing a reviewer. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 21:34
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    I think the idea that you should submit your paper to the journal you cite most is outdated. People no longer choose what to read based on the journal it is published in. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 21:36
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Editors can do whatever they want, pretty much, so long as they don't get the publisher angry.

That said, if you're writing a major paper and you haven't cited any papers from the journal you're submitting to, you might take a step back and ask yourself if you're submitting to the appropriate journal.

Note also that your paper was not rejected out of hand. It is now in review. Presumably, you could have simply recommended appropriate reviewers that the journal has interacted with before, perhaps with the same outcome.

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    I agree with this. Perhaps it is my pet peeve, but I review quite a bit for a top sub field journal that gets contributions from authors who don’t cite anything within the subfield. Think - underwater basket weaving journal getting submissions from weaving scholars who totally ignore the literature on baskets and working underwater, as well as the established underwater basket weaving literature.
    – Dawn
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 21:51
  • I have to disagree, at least in my institution, we have target journals to publish in and these have to follow specific open access publishing routes as well. This limits my choice significantly and we are encouraged to find the most suitable / biggest quality journal in our field to publish in. The reference list may be an indicator but our paper is multidisciplinary and this this journal does not have any papers that do what we are proposing. Hence my issue with having to cite papers which aren't relevant but rather only related.
    – tom
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 20:08
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    @tom Ya gotta do what ya gotta do, but I have misgivings regarding academic freedom with your institutional approach. Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 23:19
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    @ScottSeidman, so do I...
    – tom
    Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 9:45

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