Don’t be Fooled by the Factor

Today’s Wall Street Journal (free) has a good overview of the many techniques that scientific journals can use to manipulate their impact factor, such as blatantly asking authors to cite more studies the journal has already published to limiting citations to outside journals. Thomson Scientific is releasing new impact factors this month, and it’s important to not be too slavish in basing collection develoment decisions on impact factors, as well as to remember that it’s not only Google that can manipulate what knowledge rises to the top.

For a recent stinging rebuke of citation citing in the humanities, see Harvard University Press executive editor Lindsay Waters’ Lure of the List ($) in the Chronicle. Waters takes the journal Critical Inquiry to task for using “very likely bogus social-science tools” and substituting “accounting methods for critical judgment” in order to rank the most important literary theorists.

One thought on “Don’t be Fooled by the Factor”

  1. This is in some ways unsurprising but also deeply troubling. If science truly is a communal effort to share information in order to further knowledge – which idealistically is what publishing in this area is all about – then these practices are deeply unethical. They are right up there with reporting fraudulent findings and will feed the public’s distrust of science.

    Given the present trend to manipulate scientific data so it provides the results you want or discredit it to avoid results you don’t (see Henry Waxman’s site for view from the House minority), we really, truly don’t need that now.

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