Do impact factors matter?

posted
06-Jul-20, 02:01
edited about 1 minute later
Avatar for sciencephd
posted about 1 month ago
My group mates and I are working on a manuscript now. I'm not the first author, but this going to be my first paper, so I hope it goes to a good journal. However, I don't know which journal is good for this manuscript. I asked my supervisor, and he suggested a journal, which I've never heard of. He said that journal had some potential. I asked the other authors, who are my group mates, if that is a good journal. None of them had heard of the journal either. But one of them told me I should look up its impact factor and the impact factor could tell me whether that was a good journal. So I searched and the factor is between 3-4. That group mate then told me 3-4 meant that was an average journal. So I feel disappointed.
So here are my questions: Do impact factors indicate how good a journal is? Should I go for a journal with a higher impact factor? Does this number mean my supervisor doesn't think highly of our paper? Do the impact factors matter when I look for academic jobs (postdocs, and lectureships in the future) ?
posted
06-Jul-20, 05:27
edited about 6 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 month ago
The laughable obsession of academia with impact factors and university ranking tables is one of the many reasons why I am glad to be out of the system.

At your stage what you should be worrying about is doing great science, learning how to be an independent researcher, building collaborations, thinking about exciting new projects and getting published in an international standard, peer-reviewed journal. Period.

None of this other stuff should matter. Your science is as good as your science is. Where it gets published should make no difference to that but academics do tie their little knickers in a twist about getting a journal with the highest possible number stuck on the front page. It's all a bit unseemly, tawdry and utterly pathetic but depressingly it may be something you need to worry about if it is your intention to join this absolute charade of a career path.

I'm in an "eeyore" mood today. Sorry about that :-D
posted
06-Jul-20, 09:40
edited about 27 seconds later
by Nead
Avatar for Nead
posted about 1 month ago
I agree with pm133, you should be focused on being a great scientist over the IF of a journal.

Something to add on IF though:
There are some well know, well-respected journal with lower IF, but are very specialised journals. Then you have a journal with high IF, that take a wide range of paper on a different area- hence a higher IF.

The way I seen it published is published, no matter the IF. Yes, higher IF look better, but I have yet to do one interview where I've been asked about IF.
posted
06-Jul-20, 15:07
edited about 2 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 month ago
A high IF would look impressive IMO but it probably isn't that big a deal at this stage. When applying for professorships I think you have to state the IF of each one of the papers (at least you do at my uni). But I wouldn't worry that much. Go for the best journal you think it could go in. Some people I know have a strategy of submitting to higher impact factors first and then working down through the list. Personally I just go for a journal that I think it will be accepted in. One where I've read similar papers.
posted
06-Jul-20, 17:17
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From sciencephd:
the impact factor could tell me whether that was a good journal.


Impact factor is the crudest way to measure journal quality. It is incredibly arbitrary, can easily be gamed and is only considered over the last two years. However, it is sometimes used to grade academic jobs or grant applications. If you are applying for job/grant in the near future it might be useful but otherwise a 3 year old paper with 30+ citations is better.

I agree with the other posts above but I would also say newer journals are not bad. Generally newer journals are desperately trying to get good articles and appreciate it when researchers submit good research. There is a guy in my field who manages to publish awful research in a specific top journal because he "allegedly" accounted for 30% of their citations in their first 2 years from one paper. So I would recommend reading the articles in the smaller journal first and gauge for yourself if they are publishing good research.
posted
06-Jul-20, 19:26
edited about 17 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 month ago
In my field IF is a big deal! I wish I had a darn high IF journal paper but alas I don't yet.
posted
07-Jul-20, 03:27
Avatar for sciencephd
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From Tudor_Queen:
A high IF would look impressive IMO but it probably isn't that big a deal at this stage. When applying for professorships I think you have to state the IF of each one of the papers (at least you do at my uni). But I wouldn't worry that much. Go for the best journal you think it could go in. Some people I know have a strategy of submitting to higher impact factors first and then working down through the list. Personally I just go for a journal that I think it will be accepted in. One where I've read similar papers.

Is your uni in the UK? I'd like to know if UK unis count IFs when they hire new lecturers
posted
07-Jul-20, 05:37
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 month ago
Just as an amusing aside, I was trying to think of a way of demonstrating the dangers of obsessing over impact factors and came up with a couple of examples.

If Watson and Crick had published in a low/medium impact factor journal it's likely that Biology would have remained a subject outside mainstream science.

What about Planck's groundbreaking work or Einstein's work in Quantum Mechanics? It's likely we would still be trying to understand the photoelectric effect.

Of course you could say it was the responsibility of those scientists to publish in the highest impact factor journals but what if they didn't? What if they just wanted to get published quickly in a decent journal and move on rather than mess about for potentially a year or more trying to get into Nature?

Mainstream scientists would have ignored or derided these journals as "not containing important science".
This is not a new thing. There are plenty of examples out there of new science being discovered only to turn out that Chinese and Russian scientists had already published that work decades before.

Those of you who are planning to join academia as a career have a responsibility to seriously question things like impact factors and league tables otherwise you risk being part of a problem I think we can all see.

Anyway just some thoughts on the matter.
posted
07-Jul-20, 12:09
edited about 18 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 month ago
Sure, but some of us just like metrics and can also see that the world isn't black and white (unlike the current narrative on lots of thing hmm) and there are exceptions to the rule. I still covet getting some high IF journal papers!
posted
07-Jul-20, 12:28
edited about 7 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From sciencephd:
Quote From Tudor_Queen:
A high IF would look impressive IMO but it probably isn't that big a deal at this stage. When applying for professorships I think you have to state the IF of each one of the papers (at least you do at my uni). But I wouldn't worry that much. Go for the best journal you think it could go in. Some people I know have a strategy of submitting to higher impact factors first and then working down through the list. Personally I just go for a journal that I think it will be accepted in. One where I've read similar papers.

Is your uni in the UK? I'd like to know if UK unis count IFs when they hire new lecturers


To me it is a no brainer that a high IF paper is worth something. At any uni, US or UK or elsewhere. But it isn't everything. Not at all. Just read what pm133 says on the matter!

By the way, I think a first authored paper of any impact factor will carry more weight than a high IF one where you are somewhere in a list of authors. So I'd be focusing on trying to get a first authored paper.
posted
07-Jul-20, 14:41
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From sciencephd:
Quote From Tudor_Queen:
A high IF would look impressive IMO but it probably isn't that big a deal at this stage. When applying for professorships I think you have to state the IF of each one of the papers (at least you do at my uni). But I wouldn't worry that much. Go for the best journal you think it could go in. Some people I know have a strategy of submitting to higher impact factors first and then working down through the list. Personally I just go for a journal that I think it will be accepted in. One where I've read similar papers.

Is your uni in the UK? I'd like to know if UK unis count IFs when they hire new lecturers


If your field counts IF as a proxy for REF quality (some sciences are very open about doing this), then it will likely be a factor in lectureship applications.
posted
09-Jul-20, 00:23
Avatar for sciencephd
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From bewildered:
[quote]

If your field counts IF as a proxy for REF quality (some sciences are very open about doing this), then it will likely be a factor in lectureship applications.

Thanks. This is helpful information.
posted
09-Jul-20, 09:45
by eng77
Avatar for eng77
posted about 1 month ago
Publishing in high impact factor is nice but publishing in an "average" IF is better than rejection, right? I agree with TQ, for the first paper let it get it published then later seek excellence. In postdoc applications, it will raise many questions if you have no publications. At your stage just do it and when you have the luxury to choose the journal, aim for the high IF.
posted
18-Jul-20, 01:12
by abababa
Avatar for abababa
posted about 3 weeks ago

Those of you who are planning to join academia as a career have a responsibility to seriously question things like impact factors and league tables otherwise you risk being part of a problem I think we can all see.


Just wanted to add to this as an academic;

I think we all agree. The sector chasing of league tables in an absolute joke.

This is not entirely an issue academics can fix, though, unless we manage to pull of some kind of mass action, and even then, we'd need to know exactly what we want instead.

The problem for me, in the UK at least, stems from how these league tables translate to money for Universities; it's easy to rail on overpaid VCs etc., but ultimately they have boards to answer to and these boards want income and growth.

REF is the prime example, which is a direct paycheque based on a (arguably suspect and certainly cliqued) peer-review against which seeks oddly to derive foremost the vague, manipulable criteria of whether work is 'nationally-leading' or 'internationally-leading'. It breaks not just because of the review criteria, but also - how does a University self-evaluate its staff in anticipation? If you internally peer review on a faculty scale, the level of in-fighting, 'so-and-so-isn't-in-my-field-so-how-can-they-judge-it' moans, and outright corruption is easy to forsee. So a flawed bibliometric is often the lesser of many evils.

The only complete solution is to ditch the concept of the government paying universities based on league table performance; under the acceptance they can't measure research institutionally in a sensible way. Funnel the money into grants instead and let academics compete for it (and maybe fix the issues there too) rather than institutions. Yet of course this will not happen, as government are disproportionately alumni of the institutions that benefit most from the status quo.

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