Seriously? Payment for citations?

Aug 14 2015 Published by under Ethics, Impact Factor

A Reader submitted this gem of a spam email:

We are giving away $100 or more in rewards for citing us in your publication! Earn $100 or more based on the journal’s impact factor (IF). This voucher can be redeemed your next order at [Company] and can be used in conjunction with our ongoing promotions!

How do we determine your reward?
If you published a paper in Science (IF = 30) and cite [Company], you will be entitled to a voucher with a face value of $3,000 upon notification of the publication (PMID).

This is a new one on me.

36 responses so far

  • Philapodia says:

    [company] = starts with "C", ends with "yagen Biosciences"

    Companies have been rewarding "citations" like this for awhile with company points or somesuch, although not this blatantly. It's great marketing for them, and cheap as well since they make transgenic animals which you pay a lot for.

  • becca says:

    I think what's really amazing is how much they're paying.

  • olympiasepiriot says:

    Obviously I'm a rube, 'cause my first thought was "this is legal?!?"

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    I got this exact email yesterday and the company lost all of its credibility right there. If you are so desperate that you need to pay people to cite you (or essentially buy your products), then I want nothing to do with your products.

  • Dave says:

    I think based on this, Cell Signaling Technology owes me at least a T-shirt!!!!!!

  • Philapodia says:

    "If you are so desperate that you need to pay people to cite you (or essentially buy your products), then I want nothing to do with your products"

    You've never used a Groupon/Living Social, used a coupon for a discount on a product, or answered a survey for a free Starbucks card? These are businesses in competitive markets that need to market their product so they can pay their employees. While I think it's gimmicky, I don't think we need to get on our high horse about it.

  • Draino says:

    Wow, that's pretty lame. However, I have colleagues who made mice through them and they were very satisfied with the price and speed. As a new company they may be still in those awkward teenage years. Somebody should give their advert head a wedgie.

  • physioprof says:

    What's the big deal? They are trying to incentivize both the use of their products/services *and* the acknowledgment in publications that results were obtained using those products/services. Douchemonkey's breathless headline totally conflates this innocent promotion with paying for citations to publications in the scientific literature, which is not at all what is going on here. They just want you to refer in your publication to the name of the company that provided the product/service that you used, which is totally commonplace in Materials and Methods sections.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    "You've never used a Groupon/Living Social, used a coupon for a discount on a product, or answered a survey for a free Starbucks card?"

    Hahahaha!! Sure I have, who wouldn't like a free Starbucks card for just their opinion? I have used Groupon too, for small purchases. Not for anything worth thousands. And more often than not I have been burned by deals from unknown/lesser known entities. So much so that I have stopped using Groupon for entities that I am not very familiar with.

    " These are businesses in competitive markets that need to market their product so they can pay their employees. "

    Yeah...so essentially we are an unheard of company but rather than give you a % discount to encourage you to try us out, we urge you to first spend thousands of dollars at full price on our transgenics and when you finally publish the manuscript we'll give you a few hundred back toward your NEXT order after we see the citation. This is how we plan to bring on new business and continue to pay our employees.

    Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Maybe it is a legit company with good services. Either way, this strategy will not work to hook me.

    Either way, I think the reason DM posted this is not because they are paying for citations, but because they are paying for citations as a function of JIF. That is definitely something I have not seen before.

  • zb says:

    I was going to get on a high horse that the scheme was a kickback scheme for buying their products. But, "rewards" implies a discount on their products as an incentive for citing (presumably correctly) their product by name. If it's a reasonable cite practice (I don't know the field well enough), then, they're effectively giving bigger discounts to folks who publish in higher IF journals (as opposed to say, a coupon, or a volume discount). If it's not a reasonable cite practice (for example, citing the manufacturer of the conference table you held lab meetings around), then it's unacceptable.

    If the rewards are things like iPads, given personally to the PI, that's a kick back scheme and someone should be getting on their case. If it's coffee makers for the lab, similarly questionable.

    (And the kind of thing the incredibly onerous sole source justifications were designed for).

  • zb says:

    PS: Looked at their program. I think the offer would fly clean if instead of suggesting a cite (specifically for their animal model service, which is probably something reasonable to cite, though if so, they should ask for the cite as part of a licensing agreement), they rewarded you for submitting the PMID to their data base (so that they didn't have to go looking for the cite themselves).

    I'm not going to argue about the dependence on IF factor, because that's the same argument about anything depending on IF factor. At least in this case, the cites might be for somewhat similar work.

  • Namaste_Ish says:

    How do I unsubscribe to these posts? Where are the risotto recipes? Why don't my grandkids call??

  • Namaste_Ish says:

    Oh. Welcome back. We are still assholes. Some more than others ---> @gertyz

  • kalevala says:

    What would be shady is if somebody cited them without actually using their service.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    It's only "payment" in terms of store credit, as it were. While you can argue there is an ethical issue, it seems less problematical than the companies that offer a free iPad or something for $5000 or more in purchases.

  • Newbie PI says:

    When I started my lab, I got several Visa gift cards from the same company that gives out iPads for big orders (I didn't want an iPad and the card was an alternative). This was definitely an ethical violation of our university policy. However, the person I asked about this at our office of research told me that this type of thing was not something the university would have any record of, was not something that they would likely pursue anyway, and that it was up to me to establish my own level of risk. She was basically telling me to go ahead and do it even though it was against policy. At the time, I was a little scared of getting in trouble so I made sure to use the money on food for lab meetings. Now I wouldn't give it a second thought.

  • None of this is any different than airlines using frequent flier programs to build loyalty of business flyers who are spending their companies' money on flights. So long as we are talking about "perks" and not "kickbacks", there is nothing wrong with this. For example, it's not as if they are charging your university double the regular price for FBS and then giving you the PI back some substantial fraction of that premium.

  • Pippso says:

    yep not a big deal everybody. Got way better perks from several other companies anyhow.

  • JustAGrad says:

    What exactly happens to those iPads and other goodies that companies give away when they are turned over to the university admins? Do they keep it? Does it get locked up? Sold on auction?

  • becca says:

    Anybody who plays rewards games realizes Hilton give more than Motel 6s. Supply companies charge the universities 2x or more what they need to for FBS (and carboys and ice buckets and...), and then offer "perks" to lab personnel for buying their brand. The optics may be better or worse, but the end result is the same, inflated prices and kickbacks in practice. Universities don't pay people enough for moral behavior. Don't get me started on phama companies courting physician types....

    JustAGrad-presumably salvage sales and the like. Unis have all manner of extra electronic stuff, they know how to get rid of it.

  • Newbie PI says:

    Justagrad - the goodies like ipads are completely outside of the university's jurisdiction. All you have to do is fill out a form for where you would like your "prize" to be sent (a home address is fine) and include an invoice for the qualifying order. Anybody who gets the Ipad is not likely to ever turn it back over to the university.

  • physioprof says:

    Supply companies charge the universities 2x or more what they need to for FBS (and carboys and ice buckets and...)

    Evidence for this, please.

  • JustAGrad says:

    Newbie PI, If only that were the case here. Each invoice gets thoroughly investigated by three administrators in my department. Each item needs its own paragraph explaining what it will be used for AND why it won't be used for something personal. We are now required to have locked containers for our own disposable gloves so that they can be separated by project and only the people working on a particular grant can have access to the box to ensure that nobody uses a single glove unless it is for work specifically on that grant. Same for pens, paper, staples, etc.

    Said admins spend time looking at the companies that we order from to find if there are any toys we receive that might not be on the invoice. They always find out if we receive something and it always has to be turned over to them.

  • Philapodia says:

    @justagrad

    Sounds like a shitty place to work. Locked up supplies is seriously ridiculous, and it sounds like your admins need to find more productive uses of their time.

  • Newbie PI says:

    The granting agencies don't hold you to that level of oversight for your spending, so why would the university waste money on that? Sounds like an administrator's brilliant idea to invent work for themselves.

    Also, the iPads from Life Tech could be sent to your house. All you needed was a copy of the invoice and you filled out the paper work after the supply order was delivered. There was no way for admins to know anything about it, unless the admins were also filling out the paper work to get it (which seems really shady to me). But it's a moot point, because I just checked Life Tech's website and they don't have the promotion any more. 🙂

  • becca says:

    Did you know that you can literally get 3 generic ice buckets/$17 (American Metalcraft Ice Bucket, 3 qt - 3 count), OR 1 "Kate Spade Gold Dots Raise A Glass Acrylic Ice Bucket"for $54 OR 1 "Scienceware Blue 2.5 Liter Magic Touch Ice Bucket with Lid" for $90.46?

    Are they the same product? Nope. The science marketed ones really do work better for most science applications. But speaking as someone who *always* ends up using like 6 styrofoam packaging buckets (free with purchase) at a time, rather than only have 1 Special Science Ice Bucket, I really have to say that it's kind of comical.

    FBS is another kind of mess- I don't blame people not wanting to try different distributors, given the possibilities for unknown biological effects. But you have to be honest that you're paying for *consistency* of product, not *quality* of product. And the "trustworthy halo" around the known entity. This is analogous to the situation for baby formula, and why people buy Gerber instead of store brand (eagerly awaiting the FBS marketers to discover "comfort proteins").

    The carboy discussion happened on twitter recently, and the question was whether it would be more logical to purchase "home brewing supplies" or the marketed-for-Science plastic carboys. Obviously, not all plastics are autoclavable, and not everyone wants glass carboys... but really, if you read the instructions with the plastic autoclavable carboys they warn specifically that you can't know, a-priori, what setting to autoclave at such that the contents will be completely sterile. Kind of removes some of the incentive to buy SuperSpecialScienceCarboys, if you ask me. NB: I may be biased against SuperSpecialScienceCarboys because of seeing a new lab start up and buy no less than 6 that went completely unused.

  • Ass(isstant) Prof says:

    JustAGrad:

    Maybe the admin side at your university should be reminded of the following: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/nsb1418/nsb1418.pdf

    In other words, that's bogus, dude.
    Our Grants and Contracts office started asking about this stuff, "you will use those pipette tips only on one project... etc." They backed down, so far.

  • JustAGrad says:

    Thanks for the responses. I'll also pass on the NSF report, which is interesting, to my PI.

  • neuromusic says:

    pegging the reward to IF is a genius move. they want their name in the text of on the 1-pager CNS papes, where they've been getting bumped out of M&M b/c of wordcount limits

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    I'm still seeing zero evidence that scientific supply companies are overcharging universities for their products and that they "get away with it" because they give de minimus perks to PIs.

  • Philapodia says:

    "... scientific supply companies are overcharging universities for their products and that they "get away with it" because they give de minimus perks to PIs."

    It sounds truthy so it must be true, right?

  • jmz4gtu says:

    More details at ScienceInsider:
    http://news.sciencemag.org/scientific-community/2015/08/apparent-pay-cite-offer-sparks-internet-outrage

    It doesn't seem like a big deal to me. I'm not buying their mice to get the discount, I'm doing it so I can do my experiments. And you really *should* be citing the source of a reagent as critical as a KO/transgenic mouse, if nothing else than to stem the wave of people asking you to share (I'm assuming the company has a prohibition against redistribution). I also know a lot of people don't list supplier names in their M&M, and so I see the company's logic in giving them an incentive to make sure it happens.

    Abcam gives you store credit for uploading blot images, micrographs, and protocols for experiments using their antibodies, and they don't even care if it is positive or negative. I get that as academics, we're reflexively cynical about private industry's motivations, but this seems neutral to good.

  • Grumble says:

    "We are now required to have locked containers for our own disposable gloves so that they can be separated by project and only the people working on a particular grant can have access to the box to ensure that nobody uses a single glove unless it is for work specifically on that grant. Same for pens, paper, staples, etc."

    This is evidence for the fucking end of the world, destroyed by a massive Earth-devouring mudslide of administrative bullshit.

  • This is evidence for the fucking end of the world, destroyed by a massive Earth-devouring mudslide of administrative bullshit.

    And what's pathetic about it is that NIH, NSF, and OMB have made it abundantly clear that the legal standard for allowability and allocability of incurred costs to federal grants does not require any of that kind of lunacy.

  • Grumble says:

    Right. Administrators interpret the rules as restrictively as possible because the more rules there are, the more their miserable existence is justified.

  • jmz4 says:

    @grumble
    Don't forget Hanlon's razor. I think a lot of these problems are caused by a combination of lack of experience, understanding and the attending fear of screwing up.

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