If you want to be heard, seen or known, you need to leave a lasting impression in the minds of people you meet- “Making an impact” is always important, and the scientific field is no different in this respect! Here it’s our research that speaks, our articles need to make an impact for us.
But how do we decide whether our research is having an impact or not? Is there a way to quantify the effect or judge the quality of the articles?
The answer is YES and NO!
It’s a ‘yes’ because we do have a value called Impact factor (IF) that is being widely used to measure impact of all the articles published in a particular journal and which is used to aid in academic evaluation.
However, it’s a ‘no’ because IF wasn’t devised to be used for assessing the impact of an individual article. It is being misused this way. It was introduced to help librarians manage the journal collection of the library and not for assessing the worth of an article or an author per se. IF is a journal-level measure of impact and not an article-level one. But unfortunately, IF tends to be used for analysing the quality of articles. So the concept of IF is not as simple as it seems- it’s rather more complicated and controversial.
What is impact factor?
The idea of IF was first mentioned by Eugene Garfield in 1955.1 It is the average number of times articles from the journal published in past two years get cited in the present year.
It can be calculated using the formula:
Note: The impact factor of a particular journal is generally given on its home page.
Now, let us examine the various pros and cons to impact factor.
The sole advantage of IF is that it helps compare journals of the same field. It gives an idea of journal’s relative importance and reputation.
With time IF began to be inappropriately used as an indicator of a scientist’s performance. Recruitment, promotions, awarding of grants and determination of scientific calibre are all often judged using the same yardstick of IF. However, there are various flaws in IF that should be sufficient to discourage its use in academic evaluation.
- IF doesn’t reflect the impact or citations of an individual article. Each article is described not in terms of its own statistics, but that of the journal. So, an article having fewer citations published in a high IF journal is given more importance than a highly cited article in a low IF journal.
- While calculating IF, self citations are also counted.
- Review articles are generally highly cited. Publication of more number of review papers in a journal can greatly affect the journal’s IF.
- IF depends on the size of the field concerned. A larger field size would draw more citations than the one having a small size.
As we can see the cons clearly outweigh the pros, but in spite of these flaws IF is still used largely for academic evaluation. This may be because it has been there for the longest time and also because no other more accurate tool is known. However, people are gradually becoming aware of the inappropriate use of IF and it is becoming more common among some scientists now that articles be judged on their merit and not on the basis of IF.
San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)
In response to the inappropriate use of IF, certain scientists, groups, institutions and publishers have come together to sign DORA2, a declaration that rejects the use of IF in determining one’s scientific merit and accomplishment.
So now two questions arise: How does one determine a scientist’s accomplishments? And how should one select a journal for publishing one’s work?
In order to assess scientific achievements of a scientist, focus should not be on IF, rather it should be on the content of the papers, level of research, and importance of outcome of the study. The application of research and the benefits that it would bring to the society must be considered.
Now, for selecting a journal to send your work to, there are various parameters other than IF that are far more important. These must be considered before publishing your work.
- Scope of the journal
- Publication time
- Target audience
- Publication frequency
- Cost of publication
- Open access or subscription based
- Quality of papers
- Kind of work published
It is now high time that IF be eliminated for the purpose of academic evaluation and focus be on article-level factors rather than journal-based! As members of the scientific community, we should all resolve to discourage the use of IF in determining an author’s or an article’s worth.
Don’t choose a journal just because of its IF- the way a book can’t be judged by its cover, the scientific merit of articles published therein can’t be judged by IF.
What do you think? Do drop a comment below to share your views!
- Garfield E. Citation indexes to science: a new dimension in documentation through association of ideas. Science 1955;122:108-11. Available: https://garfield.library.upenn.edu/essays/v6p468y1983.pdf
- Misteli, T. Eliminating the impact of the impact factor. Journal of Cell Biology, 2013, 201: 652.