One of my courses in college required me to buy a textbook which was never discussed in class (and never cracked open, for that matter). An upperclassman let me in on the secret: the book was written by a friend of the professor, and was included in the list of required textbooks simply to give his friend a boost in sales.
Some academic journals, it seems, are doing something similar through a scheme called “citation stacking.” Here’s how it works: the more often an academic journal’s articles are cited, the higher the journal’s reputation and influence, theoretically. The rumor is that some journal editors are pressuring their contributing authors to include more citations from their own journal’s articles, thereby “stacking” their editorial content with self-promoting citations.
It appears that this fanatical drive for citations is fueled by some number-crunching group out there which counts up how many citations each journal receives every year, and then assigns an “impact factor” to each periodical. Woe to the poor editor whose journal has a low “impact factor” (i.e., fewer citations)—heads will roll!
This monitoring group for journal content recently slapped the hand of 20 different journals for “citation-stacking”—having too many articles which cite their own publication. It makes me feel sorry for the editors of super-specialized periodicals (like the “Journal of Diseases of the Left Earlobe” or something), whose articles hardly ever get cited in other journals. Doesn’t it make sense that there would be a lot more self-citation in the journal of a very specialized field of study? I only hope that the citation police take that into account!
Unless you’re an academic author, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with you. Is there some form of “citation-stacking” in popular magazine and book publishing, especially Christian publishing? Well, in a way, yes. When I included a bibliography in one of the books I wrote, the publisher asked that I add in a few titles by their publishing company. Is it self-serving? Sure, it is—just as self-serving as authors whose books include a list of other books they’ve written.
Is it a bad thing? Not really. I had no problem with adding to my bibliography the books my publisher suggested, because they were good books by good authors, and they related directly to the topic I was writing about. I suppose if a publisher asked me to remove a competing publisher’s books from a bibliography, solely because they were a competitor’s titles, I might refuse, but I’ve never heard of that situation.
Are you aware of any other practices in Christian publishing similar to “citation-stacking”? If so, please comment and let us know.