THE ICOM OFFENSE
Herbert Jack Rotfeld
Professor of Marketing
Auburn University, Alabama, USA
"They obviously figured I might be a reviewer for this manuscript," he observed.
"Or maybe," the colleague noted, realizing the reviewer had never considered an alternative rationale for the citations, "they read your papers and found them to be an important part of the conceptualization and foundation of their work."
Unfortunately, any attempt to quantify the ineffable aspects of academic work are subject to limitations and flaws. At a basic level, an article that is repeatedly referenced as an example of poor work or is cited to castigate authors for errors will show up as influential in a citation analysis. And citation analysis also encourages reviewers to abuse their power.
This is not to say that a reviewer's self-citation is bad per se. Reviewers should be experts in the area which, in turn, means they might have published important efforts in the area. In academic discussions with friends, we all could cite ourselves as broader explanations of our points (as a good reviewer might to authors of a manuscript) saying, in effect, show me how this article is in error. And yet, as is more often found....
Obviously, the author has attempted to cover an important topic. But I must note at the outset that I am offended to find that the literature review makes inadequate citation of me. While I have never addressed these specific issues, I consider myself to be an expert on the areas covered.
I know that adding these citations to the paper, while not altering the substance of the study of findings, will make it something that more people would read (including my students since I'll assign it in my classes).
And yet, textbooks now arrive on the desks of potential adopters with an added author index, listing and locating the names of people whose books or journal articles appear somewhere in the pages.
A subject index is an obvious need for both students and faculty, including locations of topic areas as well as the names of important figures in the history of business. An index of business cases or legal citations can also make the book an important resource for graduates who choose to not sell the texts at the end of every term. But an additional index of authors cited serves only one purpose, so faculty can quickly find how and if the book mentioned them.
Ah, yes, the new standard for textbook rejections. To be considered for adoption by faculty, it must not commit the ICOM offense and make "Inadequate Citation of Me." And some textbooks seem to have a goal of including as many authors names as possible among the references. You never know who might be teaching the course!
I'll admit to making the same checks, though I am usually more concerned about how they spell my name (often incorrectly) and how they use those citations. When citing something I wrote as part of a review, it is extremely frustrating to find the citation added but not substantive alterations in the discussion that I thought the article might engender. In textbooks, I find my name associated with things I never said or to support conclusions I never reached.
Years ago, the author of a heavily cited research book confided that few people's references seem to illustrate that they read it; of those that read it, few seemed to understand it. He thought he was referenced only because the book was seen by many as "important." Similarly, I often spot citations to authority in books and journals, pointing to articles that said no such thing as the citation might claim. Friends often relate stories like mine, of a junior colleagues who proudly showed where a forthcoming article cites my prior work. Yet after reading the manuscript, I wished he had actually read and understood what I wrote instead of just citing it.
Maybe that is the natural evolution of journals. They now exist to be cited, not read, and the articles are printed to be counted.