Earlier this week I received an unsolicited email message from a company called Cyagen Biosciences inviting me to cite its “animal model services” in my scientific publications. By doing so, I was told, I could earn a financial reward of $100 or more. And since the amount would be based on the Impact Factor (IF) of the journal in question, the figure could be as high as $3,000 — were I, for instance, to cite Cyagen in Science (IF of 30).
The email surprised me for a number of reasons, not least because I am a journalist/blogger not a scientist. As such, I have never published a research paper in my life, and have no plans to do so. Moreover, I have only the vaguest idea of what an “animal model service” is, let alone how I would cite a company selling such a service in a scientific paper.
But mostly I was surprised that — at a time when thousands of researchers are calling for the abandonment of the Impact Factor — any company would want to tie its reputation to what is widely viewed as a sinking ship.
Curious as to why I had received such a message I searched on the Web for the company’s name, only to find that the link from Google to Cyagen’s home page delivered an error message.
Eventually locating an email address I contacted the company and asked if it could confirm that the message that I received had been sent on its behalf (It appeared to have come from a direct marketing company called Vertical Response).
The next day I received a reply from Cyagen product manager Austin Jelcick, who explained that I had received the message “as part of our marketing campaign which is currently seeking to raise awareness within the scientific community for our citation rewards program.”
As I was associated with “several blogs and articles related to open access journals and publishing” he added, it was assumed I would be interested in “our newly launched campaign to actively reward scientists for citing us in their materials and methods section while simultaneously encouraging them to submit into higher impact journals for increased awareness of both their study and our services offered.”
He added: “we felt that it would be beneficial to the researcher to receive a sort of ‘store credit’ for doing something they already must do as part of the publication process.”
Now intrigued, I invited Jelcick to do an email Q&A so that he could explain in more detail who the company was and why it had launched this campaign.
Very surprised by the offer
While I was swapping questions and answers with Jelcick by email the company’s campaign was starting to attract a good deal of commentary on the Web.
Yesterday, for instance, high profile physician and science writer Ben Goldacre published a blog post entitled, “So this company Cyagen is paying authors for citations in academic papers”.
Goldacre concluded, “Perhaps my gut reaction — that this feels dubious — is too puritanical. But I am certainly very surprised by the offer.”
Goldacre’s intervention also sparked a post over on Retraction Watch entitled, “Researchers, need $100? Just mention Cyagen in your paper!”
By now there was also a steady stream of comments from scientists on Twitter, expressing everything from puzzlement to outrage — see this for instance.
By late yesterday Cyagen clearly felt the need to make a public statement, which it did by means of a Q&A on Facebook, explaining: “Please find below some of the questions which were asked of us and our response which should help clear up the misunderstanding which has occurred about this promotion.”
The post went on to list seven questions and answers. What the company did not explain, however, is that these had been extracted from the interview I was still in the process of doing with Jelcick. That is, Cyagen did not cite me!
What has become clear is that the company believes that its email invitation has been misunderstood. Linking to the Facebook post from a comment on Goldacre’s blog, Jelcick went so far as to complain that Cyagen has become a victim of “some gross miscommunication”.
Richard Van Noorden appears to agree, saying on Twitter that the story has been “gleefully badly reported”. He explained: “you can’t get $100 by citing them. You get a discount voucher for their products”. He nevertheless suggests that Cyagen should withdraw the offer “pronto”.
It would seem that the mistake Cyagen made was to link its promotion to the much-maligned Impact Factor, which has become a red rag to many scientists. (See also the first comment below).
Anyway, below is the full list of 17 questions and answers that make up the interview I did with Jelcick. Some of the answers are a little repetitive, but given the confusion surrounding Cyagen’s email I have chosen not to edit them.
See what you think.