How can the importance of a journal possibly be pinned down to a single number? Journal impact factors are often used to do just that.
In an Editorial, Haymo Ross, Editor‐in‐Chief of Chemistry – A European Journal, shares some thoughts on impact factors. He points out that giving the impact factor of a journal down to three decimal places suggests a questionable accuracy: In the case of Chemistry – A European Journal, for example, the third decimal place could already change if one article were overlooked. This problem is even larger for smaller journals. Which items in a journal should be counted as “citable” can also be a topic of discussion.
However, apart from questions of accuracy, can an impact factor be a good measure of a journal’s quality? Not all citations are necessarily endorsements, not all citations are of the same importance, and citations in a paper’s supplementary information are not counted at all. According to Ross, “Counting citations is like collecting coins in your wallet without distinguishing between quarters, nickels and dimes.” All of these differences mean that the simple number of citations might not give a precise picture of journal quality.
The fundamental problem with the impact factor is that it is a journal metric, but is often falsely used to evaluate researchers. This sometimes causes an obsession with citations that leads to unethical behavior, such as “citation bribery”, where authors assume that an editor is more likely to consider a manuscript when it contains a lot of references to the journal it has been submitted to and cite accordingly. Ross makes a plea to authors, “Since the impact factor [is] likely to prevail and will continue to be used for evaluating not only journals, but also researchers who publish in them, could you as an author please pay more attention to the citations, bearing in mind their implications.”
Also of Interest
- Clever Picture: Understanding Impact Factors,
ChemViews Mag. 2015.
What does a journal’s impact factor mean, and what are its limitations?