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A Different Impact

A group of scientists, journal editors, and research funders have signed a statement, dubbed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, that calls for changes to how Journal Impact Factors are used to judge scientific research. In the statement, the group notes that the Journal Impact Factor was designed by Thomson Reuters to help librarians determine which journals to buy, not to measure the quality of scientific articles.

"The impact factor, a number calculated annually for each scientific journal based on the average number of times its articles have been referenced in other articles, was never intended to be used to evaluate individual scientists, but rather as a measure of journal quality," adds Bruce Alberts, the editor-in-chief of Science, in an editorial. "However, it has been increasingly misused in this way, with scientists now being ranked by weighting each of their publications according to the impact factor of the journal in which it appeared."

Instead, the DORA statement offers alternatives to using impact factors to assess research quality, arguing against their use "as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist's contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions."

For example, the statement suggests that funding agencies and institutions be clear about how they evaluate scientific productivity and to consider the full range of scientific output like software or datasets in their funding or hiring decisions. In addition, it suggests that journals limit their use of impact factors as a promotional tool and use a variety of metrics like h-index, Eigen factor, and others instead that it says give a better representation of journal performance.

"We, the scientific community, are to blame — we created this mess, this perception that if you don't publish in Cell, Nature, or Science, you won't get a job," says Stefano Bertuzzi, the executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology, the group that organized the statement, tells the Nature News Blog. "The time is right for the scientific community to take control of this issue."

The Nature News Blog adds that its parent, Nature Publishing Group, did not sign the statement. Philip Campbell, the editor-in-chief of Nature, says that journals in the Nature Publishing Group have run a number of editorials criticizing the use of Journal Impact Factors, "but the draft statement contained many specific elements, some of which were too sweeping for me or my colleagues to sign up to," he tells Nature News Blog.

Other editorials in favor of the move ran in eLife and Molecular Biology of the Cell.