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The impact factor as a useful metric is becoming less useful.

August 5, 2014 Filed under Blog, Featured, Publishing 


With the release of the 2013 impact factors recently, I was reminded about a fascinating piece over at the London School of Economics and Political Science Impact Blog from a few years ago.

The article argues that the relationship between impact factor and the citations by journal has been declining since 2012. The authors argue that this declining relationship is due to the availability of journals articles online, making traditional journal boundaries less important. Hence, good papers don’t just have to be published in journals with high impact factors; they can be published anywhere.

The authors come to a few provocative conclusions.

If the pattern continues, the usefulness of the IF [impact factor] will continue to decline, which will have profound implications for science and science publishing. For instance, in their effort to attract high-quality papers, journals might have to shift their attention away from their IFs and instead focus on other issues, such as increasing online availability, decreasing publication costs while improving post-acceptance production assistance, and ensuring a fast, fair and professional review process.

Finally, knowing that their papers will stand on their own might also encourage researchers to abandon their fixation on high IF journals. Journals with established reputations might remain preferable for a while, but in general, the incentive to publish exclusively in high IF journals will diminish. Science will become more democratic; a larger number of editors and reviewers will decide what gets published, and the scientific community at large will decide which papers get cited, independently of journal IFs.

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2 Responses to “The impact factor as a useful metric is becoming less useful.”
  1. I think the IF already has outlived its usefulness and welcome the day when a more egalitarian process will evolve for peer-reviewed scientific publication.

  2. My thoughts on reading your post are similar to Chuck’s. IF essentially is an outmoded form of popularity contest. As we have seen from high-school cliques all the way through our scientific careers, and even in our personal musical tastes, mass-popularity and high quality do not necessarily coexist. I would like to see more papers stand on their own merit, regardless of publication, without relying on journal IF as a crutch. Quality and transparency in the peer-review process go a long way toward that ideal.

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