Citation developments in Soil Sciences under investigation

Published on
February 23, 2017

During an internal monitoring of Wageningen University’s citation performance it was observed that a Wageningen scientist suddenly had remarkable increase in the number of citations.

When this issue was studied in more detail, it appeared also that some scientific journals in the area of soil sciences show remarkable patterns in citations and impact factor development over the past 2 years. The impact factor of one journal has increased rapidly from 2 to over 8, which is unnaturally high for a specialized journal in this field of scientific research. We are concerned about these developments and the possible negative impact on the scientific community.

After a brief internal investigation, Wageningen University decided to approach the publishers of the journals about a possible case of editorial malpractice and to request clarification. The managing director of one publisher did answer that they were already investigating this issue due to other but similar signals, and soon thereafter the chair of the ‘publication committee’ of the European Geophysical Union (EGU) posted the following statement on the websites of two relevant journals: 

“Recently we have become aware of a case of scientific malpractice by an editor of two of our journals (SOIL and SE [Solid Earth]) who used the position as editor and reviewer to disproportionately promote citations to personal papers and associated journals. (...) The editor concerned has stepped down and the community of the affected journals will be informed of the situation.”

In the weekend of February 20, 2017, Wageningen University & Research received an anonymous document that claims the existence of “a ‘citation cartel’, which is causing a serious distortion in the impact factor ranking (at least for journals included in the Soil Science section).”

These allegations raise serious concerns and questions at our side. The Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research considers it necessary to investigate these signals and developments in more detail, since it might be an indication of a structural rather than an incidental case of scientific malpractice and it might touch upon Wageningen University staff. For that purpose, the board asked its scientific integrity committee to investigate this issue.