Move By Top Chinese University Could Mean Journal Impact Factors Begin To Lose Their Influence
from the and-no-bad-thing,-either dept
The so-called “impact factors” of journals play a major role in the academic world. And yet people have been warning about their deep flaws for many years. Here, for example, is Professor Stephen Curry, a leading advocate of open access, writing on the topic back in 2012:
I am sick of impact factors and so is science.
The impact factor might have started out as a good idea, but its time has come and gone. Conceived by Eugene Garfield in the 1970s as a useful tool for research libraries to judge the relative merits of journals when allocating their subscription budgets, the impact factor is calculated annually as the mean number of citations to articles published in any given journal in the two preceding years.
The rest of that article and the 233 comments that follow it explain in detail why impact factors are a problem, and why they need to be discarded. The hard part is coming up with other ways of gauging the influence of people who write in high-profile publications — one of the main reasons why many academics cling to the impact factor system. A story in Nature reports on a bold idea from a top Chinese university in this area:
One of China’s most prestigious universities plans to give some articles in newspapers and posts on major social-media outlets the same weight as peer-reviewed publications when it evaluates researchers.
It will work like this:
articles have to be original, written by the researcher and at least 1,000 words long; they need to be picked up by major news outlets and widely disseminated through social media; and they need to have been seen by a large number of people. The policy requires an article to be viewed more than 100,000 times on WeChat, China’s most popular instant-messaging service, or 400,000 times on news aggregators such as Toutiao. Articles that meet the criteria will be considered publications, alongside papers in peer-reviewed journals.
The university has also established a publication hierarchy, with official media outlets such as the People’s Daily considered most important, regional newspapers and magazines occupying a second tier, and online news sites such as Sina, NetEase or Sohu ranking third./blockquote>
One of the advantages of this idea is that it recognizes that publishing in non-academic titles can be just as valid as appearing in conventional peer-reviewed journals. It also has the big benefit of encouraging academics to communicate with the public — something that happens too rarely at the moment. That, in its turn, might help experts learn how to explain their often complex work in simple terms. At the same time, it would allow non-experts to hear about exciting new ideas straight from the top people in the field, rather than mediated through journalists, who may misunderstand or distort various aspects.
However, there are clear risks, too. For example, there is a danger that newspapers and magazines will be unwilling to accept articles about difficult work, or from controversial academics. Equally, mediocre researchers that hew to the government line may benefit from increased exposure, even resulting in them being promoted ahead of other, more independent-minded academics. Those are certainly issues. But what’s interesting here is not just the details of the policy itself, but the fact that it was devised and is being tried in China. That’s another sign that the country is increasingly a leader in many areas, and no longer a follower.