The tide is turning against the impact factor —one of publishing’s most contentious metrics — and its outsized impact on science.
Calculated by various companies and promoted by publishers, journal impact factors (JIFs) are a measure of the average number of citations that articles published by a journal in the previous two years have received in the current year.
They were designed to indicate the quality of journals, but researchers often use the metric to assess the quality of individual papers — and even, in some cases, their authors.
Now, a paper posted to the preprint server bioRxiv1 on 5 July, authored by senior employees at several leading science publishers (including Nature’s owner, SpringerNature), calls on journals to downplay the figure in favour of a metric that captures the range of citations that a journal’s articles attract.
And in an editorial that will appear on 11 July in eight of its journals, the American Society for Microbiology in Washington DC will announce plans to remove the impact factor from its journals and website, as well as from marketing and advertising.
“To me, what’s essential is to purge the conversation of the impact factor,” says ASM chief executive Stefano Bertuzzi, a prominent critic of the metric. “We want to make it so tacky that people will be embarrassed just to mention it.”
Bertuzzi was formerly the executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology, which banned the mention of impact factors from its annual meeting.
Heidi Siegel, a spokesperson for London-based business-analytics firm Thomson Reuters, the major publisher of the JIF, says that the measure is a broad-brush indicator of a journal’s output — and should not be used as a proxy for the quality of any single paper or its authors. “We believe it is important to have a measure of the impact of the journal as …