Good article on impact factors in sports science and medicine by Will Hopkins of sportsci.org
Impact-Factor Update and Put-Down
Will G Hopkins, Sport and Recreation, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland 1020, New Zealand. Email. Sportscience 6, sportsci.org/jour/03/inbrief.htm#impact, 2003 (522 words). Published August 1, 2003. Reviewer: John A Hawley, Division of Exercise Sciences, RMIT University, Victoria 3083, Australia.
Shortly after I published the article on journal impact factors for 2001 in this issue, colleagues sent me the impact factors for 2002. I have now added these to the article and associated spreadsheet. In what follows, I argue that differences in impact factor between journals arise mainly from differences in the volume of research activity in a field. I also comment on recent relevant items in the journal Nature.
Another colleague (the reviewer of this article) and I recently discussed the relative magnitudes of impact factors in different disciplines. It became clear to us that the average impact factor of journals specializing in what we called pure biophysical sport and exercise science hovers around 1. The factors for sociological journals in sport and exercise are even smaller. In contrast, journals specializing in generic fields of health, biochemistry, genomics, and physiology generally have impact factors of 3 or more. These differences in impact reflect differences mainly in volume rather than quality of research in the different fields. Why? Because it's impossible for an article in a particular field to get a large number of citations if there aren't a large number of researchers in that field. A journal that specializes in that field will therefore never have a high impact factor. We're in a relatively small field, guys. Our promotion and appointment committees should take this factor into account when they assess our performance using journal impact factors.
If the bean-counting mentality continues to dominate academia to the detriment of sport scientists, one solution is to convince our journal editors to allow us to cite more articles in our papers. Doubling the number of references will double the average impact factor of our journals. Currently most journals cap the number of references in a paper, on the grounds of limited space. But most journals also now levy page charges, so the authors are paying for the space anyway. And one day soon, when there are no more paper journals, space will not be an issue. Editors, please remove the cap.
Coincidentally, a commentary on the politics of publication appeared recently in Nature, followed by several letters and another letter. Regrettably these items all lacked summaries, so it's hard to glean the main points. The most pertinent point from the commentary appeared to be a call "not to be so desperate to push our papers into the leading [high-impact] journals", on the surprising and to me unconvincing grounds that publishing in such journals can compromise the quality of the science. I was also not convinced by the following assertion from the correspondence? "Any selection or promotion committee that asks you for impact factors is probably a second-rate organization. A good place will want to know about the quality of what you have written, not where you published it ? and will be aware that the two things are uncorrelated." Sure, but we should still aim to publish in the best journals in our field, and selection and promotion committees should take journal quality into account. What the committees need to realize is that impact factors are only a rough guide to journal quality. For example, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (current impact factor 0.8) seems to me to be every bit as good as Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (current impact factor 2.6). MSSE's higher impact probably reflects a higher proportion of papers in the generic field of population health and a higher proportion of review-type papers, which get cited more frequently than original-research articles.
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