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Maybe I'm naive. Maybe I'm just too thick to get it. But over the last few days I've been on the receiving end of quite some flak for my criticisms of Thomson Scientific's impact factor (IF) by, of all poeple, open access supporters! The discussion has been going on behind closed doors in two different threads on a message board for editors of PLoS One. Obviously, these discussions are confidential, so there won't be any names, but let me give you the gist of the debate.
Currently, Thomson Scientific (TS) is not listing PLoS One. Therefore, PLoS One does not have an IF. PLoS One editors are negotiating with TS to get listed, but so far without effect. Given the current weight of the IF in promotion, grants and tenure, it's understandable that people would like to have PLoS One listed with TS. But the whole philosophy behind PLoS One is that it shouldn't matter where something is published. Post-publication review is what should determine the quality of a publication after it was published, not some editor at some journal before peer-review. This may be one of the reasons (my speculation here) that TS is so reluctant to list PLoS One: if this concept is successful, it would eradicate the IF along with journals. So on the message board, I have been arguing that instead of bolstering the value of the IF, We, the scientists, should declare our independence of the IF and start creating a fairer, better publishing system, where scientists and not editors decide what is high-qality and breakthrough research, what is the kind of bread-and-butter research without which no breakthroughs can happen and which studies are not worth the bytes they occupy in cyberspace. The weaknesses of the IF are well known and covered. Despite the flawed nature of the IF, quite a number of people are defending its use and demand PLoS One should do everything possible to get listed. Here are a few quotes from my fellow PLoS One academic editors:
I agree with all that has been stated about the negative aspects of the IF. However, the REALITY is that the uninitiated, such as a Committe judging tenure, or a Committee deciding on a new Chair appointment, absolutely require Impact Factors for each article.
[...]
Therefore there is no use in arguing against the importance or lack of same of the IF.....lets just get it.
[...]
Scientists (sad but true) belong to the most conservative professionals in general. Despite anything that is counting agaist the IF, this will remain the measure for 99% of us for time to come.
[...]
Authors will still care about it, although they will officially say that IF's are ridiculuous. But scientists are hypocrits (like most people) and they will continue to send their papers to high-IF journals, whether we like it or not.
[...]
I say this with some sadness, because I myself do not care much about IF:s, but I know a terrible lot who does and I have given up all my attempts to discuss this with people, since it seems hopeless to argue about. That's human nature, I guess.
[...]
People are still quite concerned about IF:s, although they admit that they are misleading, but as long as the research finance system favours authors who publish articles in high-IF journals, they will continue to try get published there, whether we like it or not.
[...]
I couldn't agree more with all that is being said about IFs. Unfortunately, the reality for most academics is that all kinds of evaluation committees use IFs to evaluate a researcher's output.
[...]
I know how flawed IF is, but we just cannot be blind to the reality and should still make a best effort to have PLoS ONE indexed by Thomson.
[...]
The reasons you enumerate against the IF system are of course valid. However, IFs are still the most used way of evaluating a researcher's career and value. Even if we find this ridiculous, it's just the way it is. Therefore, I find it very important for PLoS ONE to try to get an IF, independently of the other suggestions that have been made.

And so on and so on. It's basically always: "I know the IF is really bad, but what could be possibly do about it? So let's try to arrange ourselves with it".
How can people who donate time and enthusiasm for the open access movement and publishing reform be so fatalistic? WE are the customers of the monopolist private company that TS is. WE decide who we promote and who gets tenure. How can something as flawed and pernicious as the IF have so much control over people? I just don't get it. Do you?
Posted on Wednesday 03 September 2008 - 21:27:21 comment: 0
citation metrics   science publishing   impact factor   PLoS One   


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