Impact Factor (mania?)

Today, I would like to share some resources in order to bring to debate one of the mantra of contemporary academe, the Impact Factor (IF).

The IF of a journal is «the average number of citations received per paper published in that journal during the two preceding years» (from Wikipedia). In more recent times, the 5 years impact factor has been added, especially for SSH journals where papers have usually a longer “active life” than in natural or technical sciences.

The impact factor has been considered, soon after its introduction in 1975, as a revolution for research assessment, the quantitative revolution that would have helped us to compare journals and, thus, researchers, through their capacity to publish in “better” or “worst” journals. It is common sense that publishing in “highly-ranked” journals is a (if not THE) way to a successful academic career, inasmuch as papers in journals are considered as the core dimension of a scholarly CV – try taking a look at calls for open positions all around world universities.

In recent years, several criticisms to IF have been put forward, around its very capacity to evaluate “quality” of journals – hence of papers they publish. Moreover, in a system where most top journals are owned by private publishers, journals may tend to adapt their editorial policies towards more “citable” researches and paper typologies – which is not always consistent with the very aim of publishing “better” researches and papers. It is to be remembered that the IF as well is a private trademark (owned by Thomson Reuters) as well.

Well, for those interested in the debates and researches about IF, I have selected three interesting recent resources.

  1. Dorothy Bishop, on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog, has recently warned about the risk that the «preference for publishing front-page, “sexy” science has been at the expense of methodological rigour».
  2. Arturo Casadevall and Ferric Fang, on mBio (open access) journal, debate the causes for the “persistence” of “IF mania”. They argue that «impact factor mania persists because it confers significant benefits to individual scientists and journals. Impact factor mania is a variation of the economic theory known as the “tragedy of the commons,” in which scientists act rationally in their own self-interests despite the detrimental consequences of their actions on the overall scientific enterprise».
  3. George Lozano, on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog, analyses recent trends in top-cited journals and analyses new trends, connected with the emergence of open access, web-based journals, suggesting that «journal hierarchies are breaking down and researchers will benefit from the many publishing venues now available to reach wider audiences».

  Simone Tulumello

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