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I just received some proofs of an accepted paper, for me to review prior to publication. The email from the publication staff included the following paragraph:

It is our policy not to include attributions of figures and tables. If you feel that such citation is necessary in the case of your article, please indicate so when sending your page proof comments and corrections back to us.

(no other relevant context.)

Does anybody know what kind of attribution they are referring to here? I have a hard time imagining some kind of attribution that would ordinarily be appropriate, but could be removed as a matter of policy (ethically).

I'm not going to ask the staff member who sent me the email, because it doesn't apply to my paper anyway. I'm just wondering if anybody here knows.

  • Maybe a picture from one of the authors or from someone of the same institution. You can have a picture and in the caption you write, e.g.: "(Source: A. Author)". Probably they want to avoid this kind of attribution. – Massimo Ortolano Feb 22 '16 at 22:16
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    That's really weird. I can't think of any realistic case in which "It is our policy not to include attributions" could possibly be an ethical policy for an academic journal, and I'm glad it doesn't apply to your paper. – Anonymous Mathematician Feb 22 '16 at 22:19
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While I have not encountered this before, my guess is that the journal has decided to discriminate against non-academic citation (e.g., crediting of image sources per Creative Commons licenses).

While I believe that this is improper and unethical, I have encountered worse. I have, in fact, encountered a major journal that refused to allow citation of anything that was not a journal article, because that journal's field does not typically have peer-reviewed conferences. To somebody coming in from computer science like myself, this is clearly incorrect and unethical: the editors of the journal, on the other hand, saw themselves as manning the barricades in defense of scientific quality and refusing to allow inadequately peer-reviewed material to infiltrate their publication.

In short: I think this is another case of "academia varies more than people think it does," in this case unfortunately being baked into a journal's policy, and would recommend anyone encountering such a policy to simply make their case as suggested by the policy.

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    I've never heard of that. Would that major journal not allow citations to preprints then? – Kimball Feb 23 '16 at 3:11
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    @Kimball some fields are against preprints. I have even heard a professor in Chemistry stating that all open access journals are of dubious quality and borderline unethical (in an ethics course for PhD students). – Davidmh Feb 23 '16 at 10:15
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    @Kimball And god forbid anyone would ever publish something useful in a book... – Andrew Feb 23 '16 at 11:41
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One plausible meaning for this is citations to specific tables or figures within a paper. Thus, the authors might want to say

there is some disagreement between theory and experiment [5, table 6],

or include a reference like

  1. J. Smith. Disagreement between theory and experiments. J. Import. Sci. Res. 1 no. 2, p. 345 (2016). Table 6.

The journal could then restrict those citations, as part of its editorial house style, to a plain citation of the paper in question. This is certainly ethically permissible and it is within the range of what journal editorial styles can enforce.

I personally feel that it would do a disservice to the author, the paper, and the reader, by making it harder to find the referenced information, but equally an argument could be made that it is in the reader's interest to have a streamlined article with less superfluous information (with the chance given to the author to make the case that the specific citation is not superfluous and should remain in the manuscript).

Ultimately, though, to be sure of what the paragraph means you would have to email the journal and ask.

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