|Year : 2013 | Volume
| Issue : 3 | Page : 119-120
Impact factor: Do we have better assessment tools?
Rajendra B Nerli
Department of Urology, KLE University's JN Medical College, KLES Kidney Foundation, KLES Dr. Prabhakar Kore Hospital and MRC, Belgaum, Karnataka, India
|Date of Web Publication||19-Oct-2013|
Rajendra B Nerli
Department of Urology, KLE University's JN Medical College, KLES Kidney Foundation, KLES Dr. Prabhakar Kore Hospital and MRC, Belgaum, Karnataka
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Nerli RB. Impact factor: Do we have better assessment tools?. J Sci Soc 2013;40:119-20
The impact factor (IF) was first devised by Eugene Garfield, the founder of the Institute for Scientific Information. Prior to this, several Librarians and Information scientists were in search of a method or means to assess and evaluate journals.  The advent of the Thomson Reuters citation index made it possible to do computer-compiled statistical reports not only on the output of research journals, but also in terms of citation frequency.  Impact factor is a measure reflecting the average number of citations to recent articles published in the journal.  It is frequently used as a proxy for the relative importance of a journal within its field, with journals with higher impact factors deemed to be more important than those with lower ones.  Impact factors are calculated yearly starting from 1975 for those journals that are indexed in the Journal Citation Reports.
Several applications of the journal impact factors were developed initially. It provided market research for publishers and others. The impact factor provided quantitative evidence for editors and publishers for positioning their journals in relation to the competition. It also provided data to those interested in evaluating the potential of a specific journal. However, the most important use of IF was in the process of academic evaluation. The IF was used to provide a gross approximation of the prestige of journals, in which the individual published. However, this is best done in conjunction with other considerations such as peer review, productivity, and subject specialty citation rates. Ever since its discovery, IF continues to make news, often for the wrong reasons. Several practicing scientists or policy makers voice their concerns and advice wholesale rejection of IF.  A major criticism leveled by scientists on citation-based indices like IF is that all citations are treated equal, irrespective of the context of citation and the publishing journal. 
Balaram in his editorial criticized the use of IF to judge individuals and institutions.  He believes that most IFs are driven up by a few highly cited papers, while others bask in reflected glory. He believes that use of IF could lead to extremely misleading conclusions, when comparing individuals and institutions. Students in India, particularly those working in the biological sciences and chemistry in many of our best institutions are conscious and keep worrying about the IF when submitting papers.  Kotur commented that the issues raised and addressed by Balaram were quite appropriate and applicable to the present day scenario of medical research. 
At the December 2012 meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, The San Francisco Declaration On Research Assessment (DORA) was released, which aims to stop the use of the "journal impact factor" in judging an individual scientist's work.  The Declaration states that the impact factor must not be used as "a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist's contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions." DORA also provides a list of specific actions, targeted at improving the way scientific publications are assessed, to be taken by funding agencies, institutions, publishers, researchers, and the organizations that supply metrics. These recommendations have thus far been endorsed by more than 150 leading scientists and 75 scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  The impact factor, a number calculated annually for each scientific journal based on the average number of times its articles have been referenced in other articles, was never intended to be used to evaluate individual scientists, but rather as a measure of journal quality. However, it has been increasingly misused in this way, with scientists now being ranked by weighing each of their publications according to the impact factor of the journal in which it appeared.
Despite the criticism, IF is perhaps here to stay, at-least for now. As per the recommendations of the Medical Council of India (MCI), for appointments and hierarchical promotions of teachers in medical colleges, the teaching faculty mandatorily needs to publish 2-4 research/scientific papers. It would be appropriate that the academic performance of the teaching faculty be assessed by the number of research publications in reputed journals and impact factor. There has been a mushrooming of journals since the recommendations by MCI. It is difficult to know as to what would be the quality of the scientific material in such journals. It would be debateble that publications in such journals be used to assess academic performance of medical teachers. Till such time, wherein better assessment tools are available, IF would be a gross indicator of academic quality.
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