ESEP 13:101-111 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00141

On impact factors and university rankings: from birth to boycott

Konstantinos I. Stergiou1,2,*, Stephan Lessenich3

1Laboratory of Ichthyology, Department of Zoology, School of Biology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, UP Box 134, 541 24 Thessaloniki, Greece
2Institute of Marine Biological Resources and Inland Waters, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Aghios Kosmas, 16777 Athens, Greece
3Department of Sociology, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, 07737 Jena, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In this essay we explore parallels in the birth, evolution and final ‘banning’ of journal impact factors (IFs) and university rankings (URs). IFs and what has become popularized as global URs (GURs) were born in 1975 and 2003, respectively, and the obsession with both ‘tools’ has gone global. They have become important instruments for a diverse range of academic and higher education issues (IFs: e.g. for hiring and promoting faculty, giving and denying faculty tenure, distributing research funding, or administering institutional evaluations; URs: e.g. for reforming university/department curricula, faculty recruitment, promotion and wages, funding, student admissions and tuition fees). As a result, both IFs and GURs are being heavily advertised—IFs in publishers’ webpages and GURs in the media as soon as they are released. However, both IFs and GURs have been heavily criticized by the scientific community in recent years. As a result, IFs (which, while originally intended to evaluate journals, were later misapplied in the evaluation of scientific performance) were recently ‘banned’ by different academic stakeholders for use in ‘evaluations’ of individual scientists, individual articles, hiring/promotion and funding proposals. Similarly, URs and GURs have also led to many boycotts throughout the world, probably the most recent being the boycott of the German ‘Centrum fuer Hochschulentwicklung’ (CHE) rankings by German sociologists. Maybe (and hopefully), the recent banning of IFs and URs/GURs are the first steps in a process of academic self-reflection leading to the insight that higher education must urgently take control of its own metrics.


KEY WORDS: Impact factors · Global university rankings · Boycott · Higher education · Scientific performance


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Cite this article as: Stergiou KI, Lessenich S (2014) On impact factors and university rankings: from birth to boycott. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 13:101-111. https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00141

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