Mind Games 2.0

Bloggin' 'bout science and life

Tag: impact factor

The Maximum Impact Factor Measure

I used to be the Editor-in-Chief of the American Naturalist, one of the oldest scientific journals in North America.  The American Naturalist published its first issue two years before Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, and I think that AmNat, as it’s affectionately called, is the world’s best journal for papers in evolution (and ecology and behavior). 

Today, our Managing Editor, Trish Morse, brought to my attention some of the best evidence of AmNat‘s significance.  AmNat is number 113 on the list of sources most cited by the Oxford English Dictionary.  Only 6 other scientific publications are ahead of us on the list.  That seems like a much better measure of the importance of a scientific journal’s contribution to knowledge than Impact Factors or other so-called measures of importance. 

AmNat, at 113, is two ahead of Robert Burns (pretty impressive) at 115 and behind Ayenbite of Inwyt at 112. Who or what is Ayenbite of Inwyt you ask?  Look it up!

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Scientific Publishing Metrics & The Associated Social Media Are OUT OF CONTROL!

You know you’re an old fart when you start writing blog posts like the one I’m about to write.  This morning I woke up to a collection of e-mails from various publishers about what a fantastic researcher I am and how successful all my papers are.

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Support Your Scientific Society Journals

Why do scientific journals need to advertise – particularly to scientists?

My inbox has been flooded in the last 2 weeks with advertisements from Elsevier, Cell Press, Wiley-Blackwell, PLoS, etc., about the 2011 Impact Factors for their journals. WTF??  Why do they need to advertise to me?

Oh right, they want me to submit papers to their journal.  What do I get for this?  It must be impact – that must be why they are advertising primarily with their impact factors.

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Want to increase your Impact Factor?

I’ve been the Editor-in-Chief of the American Naturalist for four years, and so impact factors have been a small but not insignificant consideration in my life for a while.  For 150 years, scientific journals lived by the reputations they garnered with the general scientific community.  Everyone knew the pecking order of journals in their field.  Given that people making funding decisions at granting agencies were run by the leading scientists in these disciplines, external justification for the quality of publications were unnecessary.  Scientists could also articulate that rank order to their colleagues and to administrators for promotion and tenure decisions in evaluating their junior colleagues.

However, in the last 10-15 years scientists and science administrators have abdicated these responsibilities to non-scientists and thus to the use of “quantitative” metrics, such as the impact factor.  (On the individual scale, see the H-index).  On its face, this seems like a much more rational, reasonable and responsible way to evaluate the quality of a scientific journal than the opinions of people. We’re scientists. Why wouldn’t we value numbers over opinion?

The reason is that once such metrics are in place and enormous weight is given to their values, the natural incentives kick in, and the games begin.  Some games are legitimate but make the metric irrelevant, some games are questionable, some are just plain silly, and some are simply unethical.  All are changing the fundamental nature of science and scientific publishing because of the perverse incentives these quantitative metrics create (see here and here for just two examples).  Here I want to enumerate some of the more obvious ways that many journals inflate their impact factors, and comment on each. 

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