Chinese Journal Has Surprise Author Fee But Gives Refund if You Cite Your Article Six Times

Coercive Citation Letters.

Coercive Citation Letters.

UPDATE, JULY 31, 2015: A response from the journal’s editors is appended at the end of this blog post.

There’s a major, China-based scholarly society journal that has hidden author fees, but the fees will be refunded if authors cite their papers six times within the two years after they’re published, according to emails from the publisher. This is an example of coercive citation.

The journal is Chinese Chemical Letters, the official organ of the Chinese Chemical Society. Here’s the story:

I got an email from two researchers in Iran. They successfully submitted a paper to the journal, but upon accepting the paper, the journal informed them they would have to pay an author fee of $500.

The authors were surprised because the journal’s website makes no mention of any author fee. It’s not an open-access journal — it’s a subscription journal.

Lacking funds to pay the fee, the Iranian authors emailed the Chinese Chemical Letters editorial office and asked to withdraw the submission. Then they received a surprise.

The editorial office responded with this message:

From: 中国化学快报 <>;
To: Zahra Azizi <>;
Subject: 答复: Author query CCLET CCLET-D-15-00032
Sent: Mon, Mar 23, 2015 12:49:52 AM
Dear Zahra Azizi,

If the manuscript has been cited more than six times (including six times) within two years after publication, this fee will be waived upon a request from the principal author (providing the cited information in detail.

So please make your article be cited more times, we can waive the fee.

Editorial office of CCL

[The email seems to mix up the terms waived and refunded.]

So, this evidence shows the journal is providing a monetary incentive to authors to subsequently cite their articles published in Chinese Chemical Letters, citations that would likely help boost the journal’s impact factor.

This is an example of coercive citation. I think it is unethical because it perverts the scholarly practice of citing earlier research.

To confirm the policy, I sent an email to the journal asking how much it costs to publish there. I received a reply the next day that matches the message the Iranian scholars received.

The journal’s current impact factor is 1.587, but I call this metric into question. It may have been artificially elevated by the journal’s practice of coercive citation.

The Chinese Chemical Society should apologize to scholars for this unethical practice and terminate it immediately. If the journal charges an author fee, the fee should be prominently stated on its website.

Response from Elsevier, July 31, 2015

Clarification on the Spreading Rumor of “Enforcing Citation” from Chinese Chemical Letters

According to relevant policies and international practice, Chinese Chemical Letters (CCL) charges publication fee for all manuscripts to be published, ¥260/page for domestic manuscripts and $500/paper for international manuscripts. CCL is always notifying all authors of this policy when the manuscripts are returned for revision along with the comments. Application for waiving off publication fee is generally accepted by CCL.

In order to attract high-quality manuscripts, CCL has always followed the policies of rewarding the excellent papers. For example, the publication fee for future manuscripts from the same author will be reduced or completely waived, or other incentives will be given. However, CCL has never forced the authors to cite their manuscripts.

Unfortunately, however, CCL was deeply uneasy about the recent “Enforcing Citation” event from an Iranian author. That matter was totally due to the inappropriate English expression of our newly joined editor. The Iranian author was inquiring related publication fee issue in his e-mail, and the editor mentioned our policy of rewarding highly cited papers as reply. The editor was unable to describe the actual policy completely, but over-interpreted. This carelessness had brought misunderstanding to the author.

In future, on one hand, we will learn a lesson from this incident, and continue to strengthen the editorial staff training for higher English capability and simplify the policies to make it more concise. On the other hand, we will continue to process all manuscripts equally, adopting the same standard of publication or decision-making, and serving our domestic or international authors with maximum enthusiasm. The collection standards of publication fee will be posted on the website of CCL. The publication fee waiver based on the citations has been eliminated.

14 Responses to Chinese Journal Has Surprise Author Fee But Gives Refund if You Cite Your Article Six Times

  1. Nils says:

    Speaking of citation manipulation, it is always good to remember the case of IJNSNS:

    • wkdawson says:

      From the article you cited

      “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

      I think that really does sum it up. I had thought that the bar can be roughly taken qualitatively, but I now see that even that is not necessarily so.

      About the only thing this Chinese journal has done is to explicitly state what is already __implicitly__ understood.

  2. tekija says:

    “If the manuscript has been cited more than six times (including six times) within two years after publication, this fee will be waived upon a request from the principal author (providing the cited information in detail.”

    The wording does not suggest that the authors should necessarily or primarily cite their own papers. It may be by anybody.

    “So please make your article be cited more times, we can waive the fee.”

    There are many legitimate ways to do this. Most scientist refer to their published papers in conference presentations with the hope that they be read and cited. In other words, that they would have impact in the field. Some send their publications to colleagues in the field with the same hope, to make sure they have been noted.

    The policy is indeed unusual, but it need not be coerctive or illicit. If the authors have written a good paper they can just sit back and relax and in due time reimburse and collect their harvest.

    That said, the editor clearly views as desirable that the said citations fall upon the years used to calculate the impact factor. This may not be uncommon among editors.

    • MC says:

      It is coercive and illicit because there is undeniably a fraction of researchers who would cite their own paper to recup money. I can’t see any argument against that.

      • SM says:

        Do you think authors need any additional encouragement to cite their own work? It’s likely that the remuneration is just an added bonus.

    • SM says:

      ok, so what if the editor would have simply said if your paper turns out to be a “highly” cited paper (in this case 6 or more citations), your author fee will be refunded.

      Is that coercive and illicit?

  3. prey says:

    It might be interesting to note that the journal is published by Elsevier. See:

    The publisher’s guide for authors also mentions that “[s]ome authors may be reimbursed for associated publishing fees”, although it too doesn’t say anything else about these ‘associated fees’. See here:

    Why do you give Elsevier a free pass even though they teamed up with this predatory journal and enabled them to put their content in front of a greater audience? Why did you fail to note this relationship between Elsevier and CCL in this blog post?

    • I have never identified this journal as a predatory publisher, so don’t put words in my mouth.
      Many scholarly societies, such as this one, use commercial publishers to distribute their journals, retaining the right to set their own publishing policies. Coercive citation is still unethical. The society bears responsibility for this, so the focus is, appropriately, on it.

    • mgh says:

      Dear prey,
      Respecting your opinion, we might pay attention to another point: the statement about the ‘associated fees’ is quite new. Please note the date of the new guide: “AUTHOR INFORMATION PACK 22 Jul 2015”. It has been published after the Dr. Beall’s post.
      Although the vague mention of possible “associated fees” does not exonerate the journal managers/editors from well-accepted ethical standards, this notification is quite new (I did not find it in the earlier version).
      Moreover, conducting unethical (or even debatable) policies would be more blamable when a journal is hosted by a reputed publisher, even if the publisher’s reputation remains intact in such actions.
      Thank you.

  4. Ken Lanfear says:

    This seems a new twist on coercive citations. Most coercive policies drive the author to cite older works in the current paper. This one seems aimed at driving the author’s future behavior.

    Because of the twist, it may not technically violate coercive citation policies, but, to me it violates the spirit of the rules and fair play.

  5. James Flint says:

    Interesting. Some journals target mainly researchers from non-English speaking countries. An example is

  6. […] a refund of your (hidden) author fees? Just cite your own paper six times, says Chinese Chemical Letters (via Jeffrey […]

  7. DEUS ex MACHINA says:

    While having a paper reviewed in a reputable, non open-access journal, a couple of years ago, published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. the Editor-in-Chief himself asked:

    “I would greatly appreciate if you could incorporate 4-8 references of appropriate articles that have been published in XXXX in your revised manuscript. This would be of tremendous help to this office and to the Journal.”

    I do believe it was a coercive action since the manuscript was under “minor review”.

    We might pay attention and do NOT agree to such requests. We can easily get through without such silly actions.

  8. LeiaSunesson says:

    Another typical case of lost in translations… The English standard in Chinese academia could definitely use more boost. While most Chinese researchers could more or less get the descriptive message through, they have yet to understand to communicate in a diplomatic way that won’t carry along misinterpretations. Personally I don’t think their (now-eliminated) policy is coercive citation, it’s a lure but not coercion. Monetary incentive from the journal is nothing compared to career-enhancing statistics such as H-index. Strong incentives for researchers to self-cite existed since long and will continue until we somehow completely change the model of evaluating scientific productivity. What DEUS ex MACHINA described was a typical example of coercive citation, the one at CCL, not so much.

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