Impact factors, journals and blogs: a modern distortion.

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A lunchtime conversation with a colleague had us both bemoaning the distorting influence on chemistry of bibliometrics, h-indices and journal impact factors, all very much a modern phenomenon of scientific publishing. Young academics on a promotion fast-track for example are apparently advised not to publish in a well-known journal devoted to organic chemistry because of its apparently “low” impact factor. Chris suggested that the real reason the impact factor was “low” is that this particular journal concentrates on full articles, which for a subject area such as organic chemistry can take years to assemble and hence years for others to assimilate and report their own results, and only then creating a citation for the first article. So this slow but steady evolution of citations in a long time frame apparently shows such a journal up as having less (short-term) impact than the fast-publishing notes-type variety where the impact is immediate but possibly less long-lived. That would be no reason of itself not to publish there of course!

Most would describe a blog as an ultimate medium for short-term publishing (shortened only by e.g.  Twitter). I began to wonder what the statistics for this particular blog would show. So I looked at the time lines for the five most read posts, ranked below in terms of total hits. The oldest (and second most popular) is exactly six years old and so represents a reasonably long evolutionary time frame. The graphs below show the daily hits (red bars are annual). The immediate impact of each lasts less than a week, but the long-term analysis shows each accumulated their totals not by such immediate impact but by long-term accretion. For most, the first derivatives are still on the increase. This might all come as a surprise to those who tend to regard scientific blogs as having only short-term impact. But it would also be true to say that chemistry operates not on a time scale of days or years but of centuries, and so it will take a little while longer to assess impacts on that scale.
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What of course is not measured by simply integrating total views over time is what purpose if any each viewing serves. This is as true of journal articles as it is of blogs. And a viewing is not quite the same as a citation (although the latter does not always imply a viewing!). But it is tempting to conclude that we have all become far too fixated on short-term impacts and the bibliometrics that provide this information.

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One Response to “
Impact factors, journals and blogs: a modern distortion.

  1. Henry Rzepa says:

    I finished the above post, and then went to a favourite blog of mine and read the latest post there. Scientific commentary regarding a published article using Twitter as the medium. Well, that certainly has set the cat amongst the pigeons. It is an interesting juxtaposition between the relatively sedate mechanism of peer review and publication in a conventional journal, and the response to the science using the near-instant mechanism of Twitter. The former is likely to be around in 10, perchance 100 years. The latter most unlikely to be so. And nor is the provenance of each discourse on an equal basis.

    Interesting times indeed.

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