Impact factor mania

impact factor

The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment has stimulated a flurry of editorials (Science, ELife, etc.) and received a lot of praise. While the Declaration, as well as the editorials, provide a concise and critical view of the current status of research evaluation by funding agencies and academic institutions, none of the arguments is new. In fact, all of them were already voiced many times before, even by Eugene Garfield, the ‘spritual father’ of the impact factor (IF). The IF appears to be irreversibly ingrained in the brains of committee members and grant reviewers. Besides being highly convenient (one just needs to press the sort button in a spreadsheet to create shortlists for positions…), it is the water that runs the mill of the current publishing model. Declarations and editorials (in high IF journals…) will not change this. The only option is to switch to a publication model which prevents hirarchies of journals, and which uses other metrics, such as citations, and post publication review, which could generate other, peer based metrics (e.g. in analogy to the InternetMovieDataBase, IMDB, see the highly stimulating article by Witten and Tibshirani: ‘Scientific research in the age of omics: the good, the bad, and the sloppy’).

First, shaky steps are taken by PLOS ONE, F1000 Research, and others.  Radically changing the publication model would not only cure ‘impact factor mania’, but also ameliorate a number of other issues, such as negative publication bias, fragmentation of publications, or heavily  biased publications (due to the need to report ‘black and white’). Besides, it would save a lot of time (for authors and reviewers) and money (for the tax payer).

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