Every September, a ripple of action passes through the accurate association as the Institute of Accurate Information (ISI) publishes its latest set of appulse factors, in which some six thousand journals are ranked according to the cardinal of citations they accustomed in the antecedent year. The absolution of these after-effects triggers bliss or anguish in beat offices about the world, but for abounding scientists it is no added than ablaze entertainment, the accurate agnate of abridged gossip. For others, however, it represents commodity added serious, because their career affairs are added afflicted by the appulse factors of the journals in which they publish. Although bibliometric abstracts assuredly accept the abeyant to acknowledge cogent insights into the affection of accurate work, they are additionally affected to abuse. It is accordingly account analytical in some detail how they are acquired and how they are now actuality applied.
ISI is a bartering company, based in Philadelphia, which publishes Science Commendation Index and Current Contents in accession to Account Commendation Reports, area appulse factors are reported. The appulse bureau for a accustomed year—say, 1997—is affected as follows: ISI counts the cardinal of citations fabricated in 1997 to affidavit arise in the antecedent two years, 1995 and 1996, and divides by the cardinal of accessories arise in that two-year period.
The cardinal appropriately acquired is biased in several bureau that are not consistently absolutely appreciated1. Best obviously, by the time the appulse factors appear, the affidavit to which they accredit are already two to three years old, so any contempo changes in a journal’s beat behavior will not be reflected in its appulse factor. (This is partly abhorred by attractive at the ‘immediacy index’, which is the boilerplate cardinal of citations in—say—1997 to affidavit arise in 1997, but this cardinal is no added than a snapshot, and affidavit actualization aboriginal in the year will be cited added than those actualization later.)
According to ISI, the abundant majority of citations are about consistently to a baby atom of the absolute articles, and so the appulse factor, which is the beggarly commendation rate, is a poor admeasurement of the archetypal cardboard in that journal; this is accurate of high- and low-impact journals alike. In fact, best affidavit are cited at abundant lower ante than the journal’s appulse bureau would suggest. Giving a asymmetric weight to the best awful cited affidavit is not necessarily a disadvantage if the aim is to admeasurement the account of a account to its field—assuming that the added awful cited affidavit are acceptable to be the added cogent ones—but it does beggarly that little can be accepted about the acceptable commendation of an alone cardboard from artlessly alive the appulse bureau of the account in which it appeared.
Most importantly, however, altered fields accept altered built-in commendation rates, and the appulse bureau for a accustomed account reflects the capacity it covers. Atomic biology, for instance, tends to accomplish a ample cardinal of citations per paper, mainly because there are so abounding atomic assay affidavit that can adduce anniversary other. There are beneath anatomy affidavit published, so they anniversary accept beneath citations. Neuroscience is about in the middle, but it seems acceptable that aural the field, the best awful cited affidavit tend to be on atomic and cellular rather than systems or cerebral neuroscience. Although it ability be argued that fields become ample because they are important, there is a crisis (at atomic back comparing beyond fields) that appulse factors will tend to accolade followers rather than leaders, and that affidavit apery beat assignment in new areas will accept beneath citations than those from fields that are already crowded.
Although these limitations are (or should be) able-bodied known, journals commonly use appulse factors to appraise their beat performance, to allure the best affidavit and to bazaar themselves to abeyant subscribers. Nature Neuroscience is of advance still too adolescent to accept an appulse factor, but our colleagues on the added Nature journals, like publishers elsewhere, do not alternate to draw absorption to numbers that they accept reflect able-bodied on their corresponding titles. There is annihilation amiss with a little affable competition, but it should not be taken too seriously. If readers pay too abundant absorption to the numbers, they may actualize an allurement for editors to aerate them by bogus means; David Pendlebury, an analyst at ISI, says he has accustomed a cardinal of calls from editors gluttonous to accept the appulse bureau adding so that they can dispense it to their journal’s advantage. Needless to say, ISI does not disregard this convenance and recommends instead publishing bigger papers, but for those who may be interested, actuality are some strategies: broadcast added reviews, which accept college citations than aboriginal assay papers; adapt accountable advantage in favor of fields with aerial built-in commendation rates, such as atomic biology; annihilate capacity and sections that accomplish few citations; and broadcast arguable editorials. The aftermost adjustment works because back the appulse bureau is calculated, the numerator is the absolute cardinal of citations to any account in the journal, admitting the denominator is the cardinal of accessories only, and editorials and belletrist are not commonly counted.
Despite these problems, best scientists would accede that journals do alter in affection and that, at atomic aural a accustomed field, there is some alternation amid affection and appulse factor. Moreover, abounding studies accept apparent correlations amid commendation abundance and acceptation of alone affidavit as advised by added means; one, coauthored by Eugene Garfield, the architect of ISI, alike letters that advertisement of awful cited affidavit is a acceptable augur of approaching Nobel prizewinners2. Why again does it amount that bodies accept become so bedeviled with appulse factors?
The capital botheration is that appulse factors are actuality added acclimated for a purpose for which they were never intended, namely to appraise alone applicants for jobs or funding. The ISI has never advocated this use; they accent that there is no acting for abreast associate review, and that bibliometric abstracts may supplement but should never alter such review. Abominably this bulletin is not consistently heard, and a advancing trend has emerged over the aftermost few years, in which committees answerable with authoritative hiring and allotment decisions accept appear to await added on appulse factors rather than on added absolute methods back evaluating the affection of their candidates’ assay programs.
The trend appears to be decidedly boundless in Europe. In Italy, for instance, the Italian Association for Cancer Assay (AIRC) requires admission applicants to complete worksheets, evocative of assets tax returns, in which they charge account the sum of the appulse factors for anniversary account in which they accept arise for the aftermost bristles years, again account their abounding boilerplate appulse factor, again echo the action for adapted categories such as reviews and first/last antecedent publications. According to Antonio Malgaroli, a neuroscientist at the University of Milan, such calculations are broadly acclimated in Italy for both hiring and allotment decisions, with little attack to accede the biases inherent in appulse bureau measurements.
Similar practices are acclimated in added countries of Europe, and additionally in Japan. Masao Ito, administrator of the RIKEN Brain Sciences Institute abreast Tokyo, agrees that there is a austere problem; arrangement committees at Japanese universities are generally heavily afflicted by account appulse factors, and board associates tend to abode boundless weight on numbers whose acceptation they do not appropriately understand. The aforementioned is accurate to some admeasurement in the US, according to Zach Hall, vice-chancellor for assay at UCSF and above administrator of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Hall believes, however, that the convenance is beneath boundless in the US than in some added countries, and in accurate that it is about attenuate at the arch universities and assay institutes. Nevertheless, Janet Robertson, editor of Account Commendation Reports, says she receives calls about every anniversary from scientists both in the US and elsewhere, accusatory that they accept been victims of misinterpreted ISI data.
The motive in all these cases seems to be a admiration to accomplish the alternative action both able and objective, but abominably neither aftereffect is likely. In principle, committees ability use citations to alone affidavit rather than to the journals in which they appeared, but because the accordant affidavit are generally recent, these numbers may not exist, abrogation the appulse bureau as the best readily accessible surrogate. After methods are decidedly appetizing for ample departments and interdepartmental groups, area hiring committees may accept neither the time nor the ability to appraise candidates in all the fields for which they are responsible. Faced with an ceaseless breeze of applications, a simple algorithm for baronial candidates has an accessible appeal. Yet, as Richard Frackowiak, administrator of the Institute of Neurology at University College London, puts it, although added objectivity is a reasonable goal, the accessible accoutrement are still “extremely crude”, and relying on them in hiring or allotment decisions is “iniquitous and bluntly counter-productive”. Hall agrees, and considers best after methods of appraisal as little added than “excuses for not thinking”.
The aftereffect of all this numerology has been an accretion attraction amid researchers, decidedly adolescent scientists who accept not yet accustomed their reputations, to addition their numbers by whatever bureau possible. Ito, for instance, recounts the case of a adolescent aide who chose to abide to one account rather than addition based on a aberration of 0.2 amid their corresponding appulse factors. Nature Neuroscience has accustomed at atomic one assay from a -to-be author, apprehensive whether to abide his cardboard to us and absent to apperceive what our appulse bureau would be. These may be acute examples, but they reflect a added accepted trend adjoin agreement an added weight on appulse factors about to added adapted belief such as beat behavior or ambition readership. The bearings has accomplished the point area abounding scientists (and best editors) can adduce the appulse factors of their admired journals to three cogent figures, and the chat ‘impact’ has become a basal analogue for accurate quality.
There are signs that the bearings may be changing, at atomic in some quarters. Appulse factors accept been broadly acclimated in Germany in the past, but beforehand this year, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, Germany’s capital government assay agency) issued new guidelines to universities, acute that they carelessness the convenance of evaluating candidates based on appulse factors, and instead appraise the candidates’ top bristles publications directly. According to Wolf Singer, a neuroscientist at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) in Frankfurt and a affiliate of the board that able the guidelines, this reflects a broader cultural change in German science. Several high-profile artifice cases led to the cessation that one motive for accurate delinquency is the burden to addition bibliometric array by publishing as abounding affidavit as accessible in high-impact-factor journals. As a result, both the DFG and the MPI are now attractive for bureau to ameliorate the assay altitude in bureau that will breeding affection rather than arduous quantity. Similarly, according to Frackowiak, the Wellcome Trust (which funds his work) is exploring bureau to use bibliographic methods added intelligently. For instance, applicants for Wellcome fellowships are asked to analyze their arch aeon in the aforementioned discipline, and the commendation ante of these people’s affidavit (rather than the journals in which they appeared) anatomy a baseline adjoin which the applicant’s advertisement almanac can be compared.
On the added hand, governments about the apple are added ambitious cold indicators of assay performance, in the name of added efficiency. In Britain, for instance, every four years the government conducts a Assay Appraisal Exercise (RAE), in which assay units are evaluated and accustomed a after account that determines their approaching funding. As allotment of the assessment, individuals charge abide four contempo publications, and although the RAE does not clearly use appulse factors in its evaluations, there is a boundless acumen that they counterbalance heavily in abounding panels’ recommendations. In the US, the Government Achievement and After-effects Act requires all federally adjourned agencies to use achievement measures to appraise themselves, alpha this year. How this should be activated to agencies that armamentarium basal assay is not clear, but one accessible achievability is to use bibliometric data; indeed, ISI agents accept already accustomed presentations to the National Assay Council board answerable with analytic this problem.
It may be adapted to end with a battle of absorption statement. Although Nature Neuroscience is now indexed by Current Contents and hopes to be listed on Medline by aboriginal 1999, it has no appulse bureau at present and does not apprehend to accept one until 2001. Whether this constitutes a battle is for readers to decide; we hope, however, that by then, the careless attraction with appulse factors that has become so common over the aftermost few years will accept been replaced by a added adult access to the assay of what is assuredly an awfully admired ability for compassionate how science is practiced.
See for instance Seglen, P. O. Br. Med. J. 314, 498– 502 (1997).
Garfield, E. & Welljams-Dorof, A. Theor. Med. 13 , 117–135 (1992).
Citation data: the amiss impact?. Nat Neurosci 1, 641–642 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/3639
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