A Journal Impact Factor Scandal

In a wildly popular post published several months ago, we took a controversial stance in discussing the ugly side of the journal impact factor. In that article we argued that the journal impact factor (JIF) is a useless tool for measuring the productivity of scientists and that it is being used unfairly to grant merit increases to scientists based solely on their JIF ranking. The article generated dozens of comments, with many readers avidly agreeing with our opinion and enthusiastically sharing their stories of colleagues who have been cheated out of deserved promotions due to their dearth of publications in journals with high JIF rankings.

In a rather ironic twist of fate, the journal Nature, (probably one of the highest ranking JIF journals around), broke a story on how several Brazilian scientific journals have been suspended from Thomson Reuters’ JIF service for inappropriately manipulating the journal’s content to falsely increase their JIF rating. The accused Brazilian journal editors encouraged scientists to cite other Brazilian journal articles in their publication in order to help increase the JIF ranking of the cited journal. In an even more egregious move, the editors created a Brazilian cartel and agreed to stack their publications with citations from their peer’s journals, falsely inflating the Brazilian journals’ JIF.

The editors defended their action by claiming that many Brazilian scientists are hesitant to publish in local journals due to the governmental policy of preferentially funding scientists that publish in high JIF journals. This has created a Pandora’s box for Brazilian journals looking to improve their JIF score since local scientists are unwilling to publish in the local journals, (which in the long-term would help increase the journal’s JIF), making it even more difficult for Brazilian journals to improve their ranking.

So as you see, not only are academic institutions using JIF the wrong way, governments are as well. Moral of the story, get rid of JIF and find a better way to evaluate scientific contribution!


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