Earlier this week, in a story by Richard van Noorden, Nature revealed the hidden workings of a scheme referred to as “citation stacking” that has landed a number of journals in trouble. The story begins:
Mauricio Rocha-e-Silva thought that he had spotted an easy way to raise the profiles of Brazilian journals. From 2009, he and several other editors published articles containing hundreds of references to papers in each others’ journals — in order, he says, to elevate the journals’ impact factors.
As Nature reports, Rocha-e-Silva was apparently frustrated that Brazilian government agencies were relying heavily on impact factor to evaluate graduate programs. That meant few scientists were willing to publish in Brazilian journals, which had lower impact factors. Rocha-e-Silva describes some of these frustrations in an impassioned 2009 editorial (in Portuguese).
The citation stacking plan was discovered, however, by Thomson Reuters, which determines impact factors, and fourteen journals — including the one Rocha-e-Silva edited until he was fired following the incident — have been punished with suspensions of their impact factors for a year.
I've heard that some economics journals (that will go unnamed unless you want to add them to the comments!) engage in a form of citation stacking as the editor asks for citations to his/her journal before the paper is accepted.