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Deeper Impact

Victor Henning and William Gunn question the usefulness of the impact factor, the measure of an academic publication's influence, in an article in The Guardian's Higher Education Network blog this week.

Henning and Gunn argue that impact factors have not aged gracefully, and reliance on the measure to distinguish good research from bad, may be misguided in the digital age. After all, "influence is only one dimension of importance," the two write.

In particular, impact factors are being used increasingly, and mistakenly, to "compare people," the authors argue. "While some institutions now say they disallow the use of the IF in decision making, the steep competition for a slot in a high IF journal … indicates otherwise," Henning and Gunn write.

They suggest newer tools that take a more "multi-dimensional approach" to calculating the value of a publication may give a better sense of a publication's value, mentioning the "Total-Impact" aggregator, as well as Henning and Gunn's own company, Mendeley.

The two argue these newer tools fundamentally rely on growing openness and "interoperability" in scientific and academic publishing, that allow "librarians, researchers, and funders to pick and choose the data that's most meaningful for any particular use at any particular time."

"Tempering the need to publish in high-IF journals and moving towards open access publishing models like PLOS One — which reviews papers on rigour and technical merit, rather than perceived significance — will give us the chance the make the next 50 years of science look very different. We can improve the quality, transparency, and availability of research for all," the two write.

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