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Old 10-16-2005, 12:17 PM
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Science impact

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The Number That's Devouring Science
The impact factor, once a simple way to rank scientific journals, has become an unyielding yardstick for hiring, tenure, and grants

In the beginning, during the late 1950s, it was just an innocent idea in Eugene Garfield's head. A Philadelphia researcher who described himself as a "documentation consultant," Mr. Garfield spent his free time thinking about scientific literature and how to mine information from it.
He eventually dreamed up something he called an "impact factor," essentially a grading system for journals, that could help him pick out the most important publications from the ranks of lesser titles. To identify which journals mattered most to scientists, he proposed tallying up the number of citations an average article in each journal received.
This accounting method sounds harmless enough. Outside academe, few people have even heard of it. Mr. Garfield, though, now compares his brainchild to nuclear energy: a force that can help society but can unleash mayhem when it is misused.
Indeed, impact factors have assumed so much power, especially in the past five years, that they are starting to control the scientific enterprise. In Europe, Asia, and, increasingly, the United States, Mr. Garfield's tool can play a crucial role in hiring, tenure decisions, and the awarding of grants.
"The impact factor may be a pox upon the land because of the abuse of that number," says Robert H. Austin, a professor of physics at Princeton University.
Impact-factor fever is spreading, threatening to skew the course of scientific research, say critics. Investigators are now more likely to chase after fashionable topics* the kind that get into high-impact journals* than to follow important avenues that may not be the flavor of the year, says Yu-Li Wang, a professor of physiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. "It influences a lot of people's research direction."
That influence has also led to a creeping sense of cynicism about the business of science publications. Journal editors have learned how to manipulate the system, sometimes through legitimate editorial choices and other times through deceptive practices that artificially inflate their own rankings. Several ecology journals, for example, routinely ask authors to add citations to previous articles from that same journal, a policy that pushes up its impact factor. Authors who have received such requests say that the practice veers toward extortion and represents a violation of scientific ethics.
What's more, investigations into impact factors have revealed problems with the basic data used by ISI, the company that tabulates citation statistics and journals' impact factors. Started by Mr. Garfield in Philadelphia, ISI was bought in 1992 by the Thomson Corporation, which has tried to transform the citation enterprise into a more profitable operation by buying up databases and promoting its products. With alarming frequency, editors are finding fault with the impact factors that Thomson has issued.
"This was a serious concern," says Alan Nevill, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Wolverhampton, in England, who took issue with the calculations that ISI made regarding the Journal of Sports Science, which he edits. "Academia is being held ransom by these citations."
Far From Its Roots
It wasn't supposed to be this way. "We never predicted that people would turn this into an evaluation tool for giving out grants and funding," says Mr. Garfield.
Although he first mentioned the term "impact factor" in a publication in 1955, it wasn't until the 1960s that Mr. Garfield and a colleague fully developed the concept to help them select the most important journals for a new citation index, which has grown into one of the most widely used citation tools in science and the social sciences. It didn't make sense, they reasoned, to include only the journals that get the most citations, because that would eliminate smaller publications. So they invented a type of measurement that reflects the average number of citations per article for each journal.
The basic definition has changed little since then, although the process of calculating impact factors has become highly automated through the use of computer algorithms, which trolled through 27 million citations last year. In June, ISI issued its latest set of impact factors, for 5,968 science journals and 1,712 social-science journals.
To calculate the most recent factor for the journal Nature, for example, the company tallied the number of citations in 2004 to all of the articles that Nature published in 2002 and 2003. Those citations were divided by the number of articles the journal published in those two years, yielding an impact factor of 32.182* the ninth-highest of all journals. It is a number that editors and publishers across the world lust after; more than half of all science journals listed by ISI score below 1.
Impact factors caught on because they are an objective measure that serves many purposes. Librarians can use them to decide which journals to purchase and which to cancel. Editors and publishers can chart their journals' impact factors to gauge their progress relative to competitors. And scientists can examine the numbers to see where their research papers are likely to get the most attention.
Higher-ranking journals, it turns out, do get a message out better. Matthew B. Stanbrook, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, tracked what happened after 12 medical journals published a joint statement on research authorship and sponsorship in 2001* an unusual situation that provided direct comparisons. Over the following 26 months, the highest-impact journal received 100 times as many citations to the article as the lowest one of the 12, Dr. Stanbrook reported at a conference on peer review and publishing last month in Chicago. "There's a measurable value associated with a high-impact journal, which indicates why those journals are important," he says.
Over the years, impact factors have proved so attractive to scientists that they started applying them not only to journals but also to researchers. Ideally, evaluators would look at the number of citations an individual paper receives or a scientist accumulates over his or her career* but that process takes time and money. Impact factors provide a shortcut.
They also help in the modern world of ultraspecialized science. Members of a tenure committee or a hiring panel find it increasingly difficult to assess the papers of a candidate working outside their own subdiscipline, so they use the impact factor of the journal in which the paper appeared as a measure of the paper's quality. By that logic, evaluators rate a paper more highly if it appears in a high-impact journal, regardless of what the paper actually says.
Europeans cite another reason that impact factors are popular there. In some countries, the community of researchers in a particular field is so small that they all know each other and either collaborate or compete. Using impact factors to assess individual scientists is seen as an improvement over tapping into an old-boy network to make hiring and grant decisions.

'Government is like a baby:
An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and
no sense of responsibility at the other'
- Ronald Reagan
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Old 10-16-2005, 12:20 PM
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: los angeles area
Posts: 1,500
This illustrates an old wisdom,

things and ideas will never solve mans problems, cuz every time you come up with something good, the evil part of man will mis use it.

Only people can end problems,,and we all need to start with ourselves..
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Old 10-16-2005, 02:07 PM
Patriotic Scoundrel
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Ridgecrest, CA
Posts: 1,610
Now that it seems publishing articles is a popularity contest I guess we'll have to rely on the Government for innovative new ideas. Since thier cutting edge scientists don't publish most of the stuff they do.

-livin' in the terminally flippant zone
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