Impact And Other Factors

Researchers are encouraged these days to submit their articles to journals with high 'impact factors'. Such journals, it is claimed, are of better quality than those with low impact factors, and this will stand them in better stead in any evaluation of their research (however this is done).

The impact factor of a journal is found by dividing the number of citations in one year to articles in the previous two years in that particular journal by the number of articles published by that journal in the two preceding years. Thus, if in 2007 there were 130 citations to articles in the American Psychologist in 2006 and 170 in 2005, and the number of articles published in the American Psychologist was thirty in 2006 and twenty-five in 2005, then the impact factor would be 130 + 170 (i.e. 300) divided by 30 + 25 (i.e. 55) = 5.45. Note that impact factors only cover a two-year period, and that they can change from year to year.

Table 4.2.1 shows that impact factors are not necessarily related to the circulation numbers of journals. It has been argued that a number of factors can boost impact factors. It is said that some journals gain by counting replies to articles that cite the article in question but not counting such replies as papers . . . Others suggest that authors can increase the chances of their papers being accepted by a journal if they cite other papers in that journal in their article . . . Editors can increase the impact factors of their journals by publishing more review articles, publishing good polemical articles

Table 4.2.1 Circulation numbers and impact factors for psychology journals in 2005

Circulation

Impact factor

Behavioral and Brain Sciences

2,600

10.63

Psychological Bulletin

4,500

8.41

American Psychologist

112,000

5.49

British Journal of Psychology

2,100

1.28

The Psychologist

40,000

0.24

early in the year, and by speeding up the review process. Table 4.2.2 lists typical criticisms of impact factors.

Another weakness of impact factors is that they only measure the impact on researchers — and not on the practitioners and people who do not publish much research. The number of times an article is 'hit' or 'downloaded' might give a better indication of impact in this respect (Rowlands and Nicholas, 2007). Hit rates indicate the popularity of an article and how widely disseminated it has been, but, of course, they do not indicate if the article has been read or used. Hit rates, too, are a somewhat unreliable measure (Jacso, 2006).

In my view, which undoubtedly will be unpopular with some, authors should think first of their audience and the purpose of their communication, and put aside anything to do with impact factors — unless they have more than one suitable journal to choose between.

Table 4.2.2 Some typical criticisms of impact factors

• A journal impact factor does not necessarily reflect the quality of all of the articles in the journal.

• No correction is made for self-citations.

• Review articles are heavily referenced, and this increases the impact factor of review journals.

• Impact factors are affected by the number of articles published per year in a particular journal.

• Books are not included in calculating impact factors.

• Impact factors vary in different disciplines (and are thus not comparable). Few journals in the arts have impact factors compared with those in the sciences.

• Impact factors vary within the different sub-fields of particular disciplines.

• Small research areas tend to lack journals with high impact factors.

• High-quality research in non-English journals is rarely cited.

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