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October 04, 2005

Is Impact Factor Fair? No so Fairly Calculated, New Journals Editors Say

The Chronicle of Higher Education has posted the transcript of yesterday's online colloquy on impact factors. The questions came from participating readers and the answers from Anurag A. Agrawal, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University. Agrawal has served on the editorial boards of five journals and recently published a letter in Trends in Ecology and Evolution "decrying some common editorial practices designed to raise citations and journal-impact factors." Since Agrawal uses ellipses in his answers, my own ellipses are in square brackets. Excerpt from the transcript:

Question from Diane Sullenberger, [Executive Editor of the] Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: How is online access to research papers, in particular, free online access, affecting research impact?

Anurag A. Agrawal: Not clear... it does seem that the free availability of articles has got to make things a bit more fair. Nonetheless, there is always going to be a prestige factor.... those articles in high impact journals or by authors from powerhouse universities will likely get more attention simply because of the source. Free on-line access should also further bias what is being cited however... some journals do not have the archives available as PDF files (for various reasons) ... given the current climate of scientists going to the physical library less and less, the are more likely to cite papers from journals with free on-line access.

Question from Rebecca Minnillo, Society for Investigative Dermatology: [...] What(if any) effect will open access have?

Anurag A. Agrawal: [...] Open access journals have the flavor of "science for the sake of science" which I applaud. However, I do not think they are immune to the potential abuses.

Richard Monastersky (Moderator): Editors and publishers of new open-access journals say they are hurt by the way impact factors are calculated because you need several years of citation data before an impact factor can be determined. So a start-up journal faces a tough time getting submissions from scientists who are concerned about impact factors. One interesting fact is that the Public Library of Science Biology journal saw its submissions double after it received its first (and quite high) impact factor this summer."

Source: More on OA and increasing citation impact. OANews Blog by P Suber (13 October 2005) [FullText]

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