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Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics

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ESEP 8:5-7 (2008)  -  DOI:

Escape from the impact factor

Philip Campbell*

Nature, 4 Crinan Street, London N1 9XW, UK

ABSTRACT: As Editor-in-Chief of the journal Nature, I am concerned by the tendency within academic administrations to focus on a journal’s impact factor when judging the worth of scientific contributions by researchers, affecting promotions, recruitment and, in some countries, financial bonuses for each paper. Our own internal research demonstrates how a high journal impact factor can be the skewed result of many citations of a few papers rather than the average level of the majority, reducing its value as an objective measure of an individual paper. Proposed alternative indices have their own drawbacks. Many researchers say that their important work has been published in low-impact journals. Focusing on the citations of individual papers is a more reliable indicator of an individual’s impact. A positive development is the increasing ability to track the contributions of individuals by means of author-contribution statements and perhaps, in the future, citability of components of papers rather than the whole. There are attempts to escape the hierarchy of high-impact-factor journals by means of undifferentiated databases of peer-reviewed papers such as PLoS One. It remains to be seen whether that model will help outstanding work to rise to due recognition regardless of editorial selectivity. Although the current system may be effective at measuring merit on national and institutional scales, the most effective and fair analysis of a person’s contribution derives from a direct assessment of individual papers, regardless of where they were published.

KEY WORDS: Bibliometrics · Impact factor · Academic merit

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Cite this article as: Campbell P (2008) Escape from the impact factor. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 8:5-7.

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