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Letter from the COPE Chair: July 2019

Is self-citation ever an ethical action for authors to do? Is there ever a justification for editors or reviewers to recommend citations to their own work or their own journal? These are just some of the topics addressed in the new, and about to be released, COPE discussion document on citation manipulation

When it was first discussed, the identification of citation manipulation came as an element within the general rise in publication ethics standards that emerged consistent with the establishment of organizations like COPE, whose purpose is the education and advancement of research integrity and publication ethics. There was a long established practice in many fields where the citation of editors’ work, or the honorific citation of leaders in a particular field, was ‘business as usual’. 

As focus on integrity and the scholarly record intensified, citation manipulation emerged as an issue with a family resemblance to related concerns like gift authorship. These issues create superfluous acknowledgement that is independent of the relevance or contribution to the subject matter at hand.

In the new discussion document, we identify all categories of citation manipulation in journal publications. We also discuss examples where there may be valid reasons that an author references their own previous work or that an editor recommends research published in her or his journal. Similarly, reviewers may have done important research that will benefit the author’s article. Are these legitimate practices by editors or reviewers or should these behaviours be disallowed? Given that these examples raise issues of potential or perceived conflict of interest and given the imbalance, either perceived or actual, of authority between editors and reviewers with respect to authors, it is critical that any such suggestion be just that – a helpful suggestion with no implied or explicit requirement or condition for acceptance of an article under review and consideration. 

We hope you find this newly revised discussion document helpful. As always, we encourage comments from our members and non-members on all our discussion documents. Please do comment on the citation manipulation document. We review all of the comments we receive and update accordingly. Our discussion documents regularly evolve to form the basis of formal guidelines on particular topics.

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COPE Chair Deborah Poff