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The Transparent Factor

Thomson Reuters, the firm behind the impact factor, says it is going to be more transparent about how it ranks scientific journals, Nature News reports.

While the company developed the impact factor to help librarians sort through the various scientific journals to determine which ones to subscribe to, it has become a metric by which not only journals, but also the researchers who publish in those journals are measured.

How the metric is calculated, critics have noted, is unclear. "We're not sure how reliable their data are," Bernd Pulverer, chief editor of The EMBO Journal, tells Nature News.

Additionally, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, or DORA, has called for using better ways to assess the impact of scientific work without impact factors. Some 11,214 people and 484 organizations have signed the DORA statement to refrain from using impact factors in hiring, promotion, and funding decisions.

Thomson Reuters notes that it has taken steps to increase its transparency, Nature News adds, saying that paying customers can now examine what goes into its impact factor calculation. The firm also has citation metrics for individual articles such that a collection of articles — say ones from a certain university or discipline— can be analyzed as a group.

"We appreciate these new capabilities, but Thomson Reuters puts the onus on the user," says Stefano Bertuzzi, executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology and a DORA coordinator, tells Nature News.