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Big Deal?

After receiving a promotional email from Elsevier, DrugMonkey considers what constitutes a noteworthy change in a journal's impact factor at his blog this week. The email, he says, advertises that one of the publisher's many titles saw a 0.336 boost in its impact factor from 2010 to 2011.

"Is this a significant difference? Who gives a hoot if the IF [impact factor] goes up by 0.336?" DrugMonkey asks. "Is this in any way meaningful?"

He then goes on to answer his own questions, posing a hypothetical example:

Let's say a journal with 20 articles per issue, 12 issue per year (480 items over the two-year tracking interval for calculating IF); round it to 160 extra citations. If only 17 percent of the articles got two more citations, this would account for it [the change]. If a mere 3 percent of articles turned out to be amazing for the sub-sub-sub field and won an extra 10 citations each, this would account for the change.

So, DrugMonkey says, impact factors are relative, depending upon sub-field and authors' actions, among other things. Still, he adds, "that the vast majority of society rank journals that I follow fail to experience dramatic IF gains suggests that nobody is trying to game the system … and that seemingly universal increases are a reflection of overall trends for total number of publications."

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