Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Academic Journal Rockets To #1 Scholarly Impact Ranking Through Self-Citation

JournalChronicle of Higher Education, What Happens When a Scholarly Journal Constantly Cites Itself?:

The Journal of Criminal Justice has been on a roll. Once considered a somewhat middling publication — not in the same league as top journals like Criminology and Justice Quarterly — it is now ranked No. 1 in the field according to its impact factor, which measures the average number of citations a journal receives and is meant to indicate which titles are generating the most buzz.

Rocketing to No. 1 is even more impressive when you find out that in 2012 the Journal of Criminal Justice was way back in 22nd place. That’s quite a leap!

Predictably, that sharp uptick made some researchers in a field devoted to misdeeds a tad suspicious. Among them was Thomas Baker, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida. So Mr. Baker did what good researchers in all fields do: He took a hard look at the data. Then, after emailing it to a few friends, he decided to publish what he had found in the field’s widely read newsletter, The Criminologist.

What he found was this: Much of the rise in the journal’s impact factor was due to citations in articles published in the Journal of Criminal Justice itself.

That impact factors can be gamed is news to no one who has paid any attention to academic publishing in the last couple of decades. For instance, in 2012 Thomson Reuters, which publishes the rankings, dropped 51 journals from its list for trying to artificially inflate their status. In one instance, several medical journals were banned after apparently colluding in a kind of you-cite-my- articles, I’ll-cite-yours arrangement. ...

Of the 328 citations made to the journal in 2012 and 2013, 157 appeared in the pages of the journal itself. ...

In the most eyebrow-raising instance, one four-paragraph editorial, published in 2014, didn’t take up even a single page yet managed to have 47 citations, all to the Journal of Criminal Justice. Notably, all but three of the citations were from 2012 and 2013, the years used to calculate the most recent impact factor.

Law Review Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink