Impact factors revisited

A flurry of blog posts, journal editorials and tweets have appeared recently on the topic of journal impact factors. A petition, DORA, has been started by the American Society for Cell Biology, to try and stop the usage of IFs to evaluate scientific work and individuals. The writer of my Molecular Biology Bible, Bruce Alberts, wrote an Editorial in Science. Stephen Curry has written a blog post about it a while ago, that attracted so many comments that he had to summarize them… That the topic is still hot, implies that there is quite some interest in this topic. IFs are simply not the right tool to evaluate an individuals scientific output, which is something we all appear to agree on.

I really do not have much to add to this discussion. I would love to throw out all IFs, publish open access in a journal that fits best, without having to spend months trying for something “more” and getting rejected repeatedly. If we can get rid of this publish-or-perish mentality, less crowded areas of research become more interesting again, as well as higher risk projects.

-but-

What is a good alternative to evaluate early career researchers? I submitted an application for a postdoctoral fellowship to multiple highly competitive programs. I felt I might have a chance, partially because I have one first-author publication in a journal with IF ~12. Careful – I am not saying this is my best publication. I also have a first author paper in an open access journal with a lower IF. This paper is at least as interesting as the other one in my opinion, but on a really specialistic topic and probably not likely to attract a lot of citations immediately from within its small research field. Which makes it uninteresting for those journals that try to pick the articles that are more likely to be highly cited… I would love to judge these papers on their own merit instead of a journal’s IF, maybe based on altmetrics (alternative metrics) or on how the information within is being used by others, as also discussed in this Chronicle article. However, I completed my PhD in around 3,5 years and published my findings really at the end of it and applied for the first fellowship 6 weeks after my PhD defense. Meaning that these articles did not have time to get cited yet. Which makes me wonder how those funding agencies could have assessed their merit.

Can it be requested that experts read these publications and make a recommendation based on their content instead of IF? Is this doable? Aren’t most researchers who would be experienced enough to perform such an evaluation already overburdened? Or are there alternatives that I’m oblivious to at the moment? Because I am very willing to embrace a system where IFs are meaningless, but I fear that PIs who have already done so may not be doing their students a favor just yet.

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