The Charleston Conference Hyde Park Debate discussed whether the journal impact factor does more harm than good

What is the True Impact of the Journal Impact Factor?

By Colby Conway on Oct 25, 2017
The scholarly publishing community was tuned into the Charleston Conference Hyde Park Debate, which talked about one of, if not the most polarizing figures in the industry -- the Journal Impact Factor (JIF).

Clarivate Analytics’ journal impact factor provides validation to the scholarly significance of the research contained within a particular journal. The impact factor is calculated by dividing the number of citations in one year to eligible content in the journal from the previous two years. It has received scrutiny, however, which led to the overall topic of the debate: "The impact factor does more harm than good.”

Ann Beynon, Manager, Solution Specialists at Clarivate Analytics, argued against the proposition, while Sara Rouhi, Director of Business Development at Altmetric, argued for.

Web of Science Before the two parties gave their statements and responses, attendees of the webinar voted on the notion that the journal impact factor does cause more harm than good. Fifty-four percent of the attendees voted that they believed the impact factor does cause more harm than good.

In her opening statement, Beynon made the following points on the importance of the impact factor:
  • “The journal impact factor, when used in conjunction with other Journal Citations Report metrics and other data, provides valuable information about a journal’s overall impact.”
  • “The journal impact factor is helpful for its intended purpose, as a broad measure of the citation activity of a journal.”
  • “The journal impact factor has taken on an almost mythical aura and become more than it is, bigger than it is.”
In her opening statement, Rouhi made the following arguments in favor of the proposition.
  • "The traditional objections to the journal impact factor still hold; it lacks context; it's meant to represent a journal (not articles or people); it's often misrepresented and misunderstood."
  • "At a deeper level, the journal impact factor is part of a larger ecosystem of evaluation designed by and for western researchers (who are largely white, male, and english speaking)."
  • “The process of evaluating a researcher and her research should be holistic as opposed to quantitatively reductive (i.e. how many citations, what's the impact factor, etc).”
While Rouhi mentioned that the impact factor has “devolved into a single all-powerful number,” Beynon stated that the impact factor has taken on a near mythical aura and has become “bigger than it is.” However, has the impact factor been misconstrued to be something that it isn’t?

“It’s an indicator of a journal’s citation activity in that three-year window, taking citations received by all documents in that journal and scaling them by the size of the journal,” said Beynon in the debate. “Nothing more and nothing less.”

As a researcher, spending too much time focusing on only those journals with impact factors can be a detriment to not only the journal and researcher, but the academic community as a whole.

“If researchers are saying ‘I have to go for highest impact factor above all else,’ they're usually ignoring journal requirements around scope and relevance,” says Rouhi.

This could, in turn, delay the process of getting the timely and innovative content out to the scholarly community.

Furthermore, publishing in a journal with a high impact factor doesn’t guarantee that a particular paper will attract citations at an astounding rate. The impact factor states, on average, how many times an article within the journal has been cited. For example, if a journal has an impact factor of 2.00, it can be assumed that each article has been cited an average of two times. Some articles in the journal may have 100 citations, while others have zero, but the impact factor indicates that on average, each article has two citations. It’s important to note that the impact factor notates the prestige of the journal, not each individual article within that journal.

Receiving an impact factor can be difficult, but following best practices for indexing is key to achieving this key bibliometric. Regardless of your role to the journal, you can help increase the discoverability of your research or the research contained within the journal’s cover. Whether you’re an editor-in-chief, review board member or contributing author, the best practices to increase an impact factor are the same practices necessary for increasing the chances of the journal receiving an impact factor.
  • Push for increased citations to your journal by spreading the word to increase discoverability
  • Avoid self-citations
  • Meet the deadlines provided by the publisher
  • Diverse authorship and review board
  • Quality, timely and innovative research
Through the practices above, six IGI Global journals increased their impact factor this past year.

Without a doubt, receiving an impact factor is no easy feat. A journal must be included within one of Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science flagship indices, which are Science Citation Index Expanded (SCIE), the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and the Arts & Humanities Citation Index (AHCI).

“The main takeaway I had (and that I expected) was that while the community is still dismayed and dissatisfied with the disproportionate focus on JIF, there's no clear consensus on how to move beyond it as long as the powers that be remain committed to it,” says Rouhi.

To learn more about this topic and other topics that are affecting the publishing and research industry, be sure to attend the upcoming 2017 Charleston Conference in Charleston, South Carolina on Nov. 6-11. IGI Global is a proud diamond sponsor of the conference, so be sure to stop by Table #73 and visit Jackie Ricords, Director of E-Resources and Consortia Relations. Also, interact with IGI Global and follow the Charleston Conference Cat, JECO, to Charleston on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn with hashtags #JECOtheCat #IGIGlobal.

IGI Global would like to thank Sara Rouhi for contributing her thoughts on the impact factor.

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