Cite Your Sources: Academic Integrity Revisited
Maintaining standards in citation ethics is a responsibility that lies with each of us
Victoria Samanidou | | Opinion
References form an indispensable part of a manuscript. They ensure integrity, allow the reader to locate existing work, and offer a snapshot of the relevant research.
But, over the years, I have encountered several questionable responses after manuscript submission. Editors ask for more citations with references from their journal, potentially altering journal metrics; reviewers put forward additional – largely irrelevant – citations of their own work to the submission. (The latter is comic because it eventually reveals the identity of the reviewer!) And although some suggestions were reasonable due to author oversight and papers being reported inappropriately, more often than not, they were unethical.
I am also well aware of the fact that editors and reviewers should make all possible efforts to improve the quality of a manuscript that will appear in a published journal. What’s more, I know that reviewers work on a voluntary basis. But scholars acting as reviewers should not expect anything back – not even in the form of increasing their h-index. And yet what happens when a reviewer realizes that their own work was not given sufficient credit? Should they ask for it? Where do we draw the line between self-promotion and genuine recognition?
This also raises the question: is it easy for an author to distinguish between a legitimate reviewer suggestion and a manipulation based on self-promotion? In my opinion, the answer is yes. In the first case, the additional suggested papers are always limited to scientifically necessary material and very close to the topic. In the second, irrelevant papers are proposed, sometimes hidden among relevant ones. The author must then decide whether to risk rejection or add all suggested references to ensure the paper is accepted. I hope that most scientists would choose the latter, but there are real incentives to “play the game.”
Another ethical question is self-citation. How many self-citations are reasonable? In my view, all recently published papers on the specific topic should be mentioned, regardless of self-citation. Self-citations can help paint a clear picture of the author and their work on the topic. Moreover, self-citations do not increase an author’s h-index (though they may skew journals’ ratio-based metrics). Personally, I do not see an issue with this, as long as the citations are strictly necessary ones. Authors should not use their research papers to flaunt career achievements, but to provide information that supports the data, the necessity of the research, or its importance to the field.
According to the Committee on Publication Ethics, all references should contribute to the scholarly content of the article (1). There are instances where self-citation and requests for additional citations are legitimate, but all other requests that may violate publication ethics should be avoided. Furthermore, reviewers should refrain from suggesting citations to promote their own work and all suggestions must be based on scientific reasoning. Misconduct should be reported and penalties or respective consequences should be applied (2)(3)(4).
Journal guidelines should indicate their policy and potentially ask authors to limit self-citations. But academic integrity and citation ethics should rely on authors’ values, not on rules and penalties. Maintaining ethical standards in academia is a responsibility that lies with each of us as individuals and scientists.
- COPE Council, “Reviewers requesting addition of multiple citations of their own work” (2019). Available at: https://bit.ly/3onUvNM.
- COPE Council, “Citation manipulation” (2019). Available at: https://bit.ly/3GsZgvw.
- COPE Council, “COPE Forum: 13 November 2017: Self-Citation: Where’s the line?” (2021). Available at: https://bit.ly/34AWiIk.
- COPE Council, “Citations: Link, Locate, Discover, Connect” (2018). Available at: https://bit.ly/3GngWJ6.