Recently, I became aware by own experiences and friend's stories that some international statistical journals (whose names I prefer to omit) are rejecting papers because they do not include a reference of the journal in question. This is, if you do not cite a paper from journal X, then you cannot attempt to publish a paper in journal X.

This, of course, has an influence on the Impact Factor of the journal and the administrators are trying to increase this.

Are there explicit regulations regarding these issues? Is it possible to denounce this kind of behaviour?

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    How would you know if this was the cause in the first place? I'm skeptical; even if you found an EIC that would cooperate in such a scheme, putting a request for citation of a related paper into the reviewer/editor report would seem like the way people might go about it rather than by overt demands or paper rejection. NB I am not suggesting that this would be ethical behavior either. Are these from for-profit or non-profit publishers? Are they affiliated with any of the major international statistics organizations?
    – cardinal
    Aug 21, 2012 at 12:58
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    See this recent article in Science (summarized in this blog post).
    – JeffE
    Aug 22, 2012 at 2:36
  • @JeffE, I recommend that you submit your comment above as an answer.
    – JRN
    Aug 22, 2012 at 23:48

3 Answers 3


There are no explicit regulations regarding impact factors; the definition is too simple. (In terms of complexity, it's a lot like calculating a slugging average in baseball. So it's open to a lot of manipulation, and all of it is permissible. However, permissible does not mean ethical, and this is clearly a situation where, if true, the journal editors are trying to manipulate statistics to make their journal look better. Such a policy, if done with the intent of manipulating statistics, is deplorable, and should be denounced—via web campaigns, blog posts, open letters, and so on.

That said, there is a counterargument that is less nefarious in aim. It is possible to argue that you should, in general, cite some article from the journal you're submitting a paper to. If you can't do that, why is your article suitable for submission to that journal (let's call it journal X)? Presumably, there are a number of other journals (A, B, C, etc.) whose works you have cited instead of X. In that case, the journal could argue that your paper is a better fit for journals A, B, and C instead.

Since it's not clear for which reason the journal has the self-citing policy, I would make sure that you can determine it convincingly, one way or the other, to avoid embarrassing yourself. The last thing you want to do is spearhead a campaign that turns a molehill into a mountain.

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    It is possible to argue that you should, in general, cite some article from the journal you're submitting a paper to. — Of course one can argue this position, but one would be wrong.
    – JeffE
    Aug 22, 2012 at 2:33
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    Well, since once of the common refrains in selecting a journal is "What papers are you citing?", it's not farfetched. If I haven't cited any papers from a journal, I need a pretty good reason to submit to it, because that suggests that my article might not be a good content fit for the journal in question.
    – aeismail
    Aug 22, 2012 at 5:37

Not quite the same thing, but I was once requested by the EIC of a journal to add some references to papers published in the journal in question to a paper that I had submitted, explicitly to promote the journal by improving its impact factor. I did not comply with this request; the papers that were relevant were already in the reference list. Sadly this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common (as is manipulation of review times etc.), although rejecting a paper on such grounds would be taking things to another level!


The impact factor is what, 3-year moving average? 5-year moving average? Cite something that is 17 or 20 years old, let them have it.

I wonder, though, if you can find any suitable wording in the Ethical Guidelines of the American Statistical Association, say, that would indicate the editor stepping over them. Article A.10 requires

Disclose conflicts of interest, financial and otherwise, and resolve them. This may sometimes require divestiture of the conflicting personal interest or withdrawal from the professional activity. Examples where conflict of interest may be problematic include grant reviews, other peer reviews, and tensions between scholarship and personal or family financial interests.

If the editor is paid more for the greater impact factor, or is more likely to get promoted, then of course this constitutes a clear conflict of interest. This is not as ridiculous as it sounds: if editorship of a prestigious journal is considered to be a part of the service component of a university professor evaluation, and the said editor claims in their annual report that the IF of the journal went up last year, and finally that on the basis of this claim the professor gets their annual raise, then the causal chain does link the greater impact factor with money.

Articles H.4 and H.5 state:

Support sound statistical analysis and expose incompetent or corrupt statistical practice. In cases of conflict, statistical practitioners and those employing them are encouraged to resolve issues of ethical practice privately. If private resolution is not possible, recognize that statistical practitioners have an ethical obligation to expose incompetent or corrupt practice before it can cause harm to research subjects or society at large.

Recognize that within organizations and within professions using statistical methods generally, statistics practitioners with greater prestige, power, or status have a responsibility to protect the professional freedom and responsibility of more subordinate statistical practitioners who comply with these guidelines.

So the editor, being in the position of power, has this responsibility to protect your professional freedom of citing whatever you consider relevant. You, however, also have the ethical obligation to expose the corrupt practices... which you are doing here on this website, and I commend you for reaching out.

I think it is appropriate to send an email to the leader of whatever professional organization you expect the editors to be members of, and inquire whether the request for citations would constitute a breach in the ethics. Knowing a little bit about how ASA works, I can help you identify the relevant person.

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