It’s beyond time we ditched the impact factor

This originally appeared at:

“I am sick of impact factors and so is science.”

Stephen Curry said it best back in 2012. The impact factor is just one of the many banes of academia, from it’s complete misuse to being falsely inflated by publishers.

I want to draw attention to a new article  that addresses the causes behind this ‘impact factor mania’ that academia has.

The article is quite right to place the blame firmly in the hands of academics. It’s our fault that the impact factor is still misused. No-one else. Almost every academic knows why the impact factor is flawed, but still we use it over and over to assess the quality of a person or an article. It’s irrationality in its most blatant form, and you’d think academics would be smart enough to stop using it. But for some reason, we, as a collective, aren’t.

This article addresses many of the causes behind this persistent misuse, abuse, whatever you want to call it. It’s open access, so you can read it for free. Most importantly, though, share this with your colleagues. Academics who are against the impact factor – you do academia a dis-service by letting this irrational use persist without trying to combat it. A great starting point for ‘conversion’ would be to convey the importance of signing things like the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).

My main feeling about why the impact factor still carries so much weight is partially due to a combination of fear and respect. Many of our senior colleagues and friends in academia will have ascended to their current positions based largely on assessments where the impact factors of journals they have published in will have er, factored in. No-one, I hope, wants to explicitly say that these senior faculty members have reached their positions based on something that’s effectively meaningless in terms of how ‘good’ at science-ing they actually are. But this is one of the implicit statements made when saying that the impact factor is a false method of assessment.

A personal statement: I will never publish in a journal because of its impact factor. I don’t care, not one little bit. If someone wants to judge my work based on that, they can, but I’ll explain to them why they’re wrong. I’m careful to suggest, however, that other PhD students adopt this stance, as many will still judge your post-doc worthiness based on the IF of journals you’ve published in, and I don’t want you to compromise your future careers. However, if you do choose to follow this stance, then kudos.

Getting rid of the IF is a cultural issue, and requires change from all facets of academia. It starts with engaging your colleagues. So engage your colleagues.

Further reading: Brembs, B., Button, K. and Munafo, M. (2013) Deep impact: unintended consequences of journal rank, Frontiers (link)

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