Reviewing your CV by Journal Impact Factor

So one of the Twitts was recently describing a grant funding agency that required listing the Impact Factor of each journal in which the applicant had published.

No word on whether or not it was the IF for the year in which the paper was published, which seems most fair to me.

It also emerged that the applicant was supposed to list the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) for subdisciplines, presumably the "median impact factor" supplied by ISI. I was curious about the relative impact of listing a different ISI journal category as your primary subdiscipline of science. A sample of ones related to the drug abuse sciences would be:

Neurosciences 2.75
Substance Abuse 2.36
Toxicology 2.34
Behavioral Sciences 2.56
Pharmacology/Pharmacy 2.15
Psychology 2.12
Psychiatry 2.21

Fascinating. What about...
Oncology 2.53
Surgery 1.37
Microbiology 2.40
Neuroimaging 1.69
Veterinary Sciences 0.81
Plant Sciences 1.37

aha, finally a sub-1.0. So I went hunting for some usual suspects mentioned, or suspected, as low-cite rate disciplines..
Geology 0.93
Geosciences, multidisc 1.33
Forestry 0.87
Statistics and Probability 0.86
Zoology 1.06
Forestry 0.87
Meteorology 1.67

This a far from complete list of the ISI subdisciplines (and please recognize that many journals can be cross-listed), just a non-random walk conducted by YHN. But it suggests that range is really restricted, particularly when it comes to closely related fields, like the ones that would fall under the umbrella of substance abuse.

I say the range is restricted because as we know, when it comes to journals in the ~2-4 IF range within neuroscience (as an example), there is really very little difference in subjective quality. (Yes, this is a discussion conditioned on the JIF, deal.)

It requires, I assert, at least the JIF ~6+ range to distinguish a manuscript acceptance from the general herd below about 4.

My point here is that I am uncertain that the agency which requires listing disciplinary medians JIFs is really gaining an improved picture of the applicant. Uncertain if cross-disciplinary comparisons can be made effectively. You still need additional knowledge to understand if the person's CV is filled with Journals that are viewed as significantly better than average within the subfield. About all you can tell is that they are above or below the median.

A journal which bests the Neurosciences median by a point (3.75) really isn't all that impressive. You have to add something on the order of 3-4 IF points to make a dent. But maybe in Forestry if you get to only a 1.25 this is a smoking upgrade in the perceived awesomeness of the journal? How would one know without further information?

15 responses so far

  • Bashir says:

    Sounds like you just need standard deviations and convert all IF's to Z scores.

  • drugmonkey says:

    right? at least they default to median for the subfield but just makes you wonder why they don't for the JIF? 🙂

  • No word on whether or not it was the IF for the year in which the paper was published, which seems most fair to me.

    No, it's the current IF, so you're super lucky if you decided to publish something in crappy IF journal 5 years ago and that journal now has a decent IF.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Not many journals make huge jumps though.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Especially when we're talking ranking jumps against similar journals. Addiction Biology comes to mind, it was sub 1 about a decade ago. Neuropharmacology put a move on but sunk back. NPP just pulled even with its arch nemesis Biological Psychiatry.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The only major deflation I can think of is J Neuro after the invention of NNeuro and Neuron.

  • Physician Scientist says:

    Deflation:

    Molecular and Cellular Biology fell from like 12 in the mid-90's to 5.5ish today. This was likely the result of Molecular Cell, Nature Cell Biology and the like coming into existence.

  • gingerest says:

    Requiring IFs is business as usual for Australia. Sometimes you can stick in the journal ranking within-field, but that's of limited help when the ranking includes review-only journals alongside the data journals, because of course reviews are cited much more often than any data paper. Crazy-making.

  • Beaker says:

    Brain Research was the top Journal for neuroscience back in the 70s (before impact factors had been invented). Today, not so much.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Alas poor Brain Research....it just keeps slipping down the charts. Boatloads of old neuroanatomy in the back catalog...but what's it for now? Used to be split into a handful of sub journals and now....back to one. Anyone have any remaining unique value? Is it speedy at least?

  • Dave says:

    JBC comes to mind also. It was one of the best journals going, but these days I am not so sure. In 2011 its IF dropped to 4.7! The JBC editors are heavily criticizing the IF now but, to be honest, journals tend to attack the IF when they see theirs slide and are mute on the issue when all is rosy. They claim that because they publish so many more articles, their IF is artificially low. Probably some merit in that, but IMHO JBC has just been publishing poor papers in the last few years....and a lot of them. It seems like the only requirement to publish in there these days is 1) > 10 multi-panel figures and, 2) Bad WBs must be a feature of at least 75% of each figure.

  • Beaker says:

    Dave, I agree about JBC. Traditionally, I have liked it because I always felt we got a fair review, with decisions based on "do the data support the conclusions," without too much trend-chasing and over-hyping whatever was in vogue at the time. If you needed to see some solid bread-and butter data, you could rely on the sometimes-boring "good old" JBC.

    But over the last 5 years, at least in my nano-area of expertise, they've published some stuff that was total crap. Far too often, I look at the data shown and either they are sloppy or else the conclusions I draw from the figures seem 180 degrees counter to the spin in the discussion, or even the title. That's a shame for a journal with a good track record that goes back 100 years.

  • Physician Scientist says:

    I published alot of my grad school stuff in JBC in the mid-90's. I always got 2-3 reviews that were on point.

    For the first time in over a decade, my lab submitted something to JBC last year. It flew in with only 1 reviewer. From talking with people, 1 reviewer seems to be common at JBC these days. I think this is an issue.

  • Our lab has slowly shifted from publishing in JBC to Nucleic Acids Research, which isn't as applicable to all of JBC's previous customers, but works well for us and IMHO doesn't seem to let as much dross pass through its publication doors.

  • Dave says:

    I love, love, love NAR. Never published in it but my I'm certainly targeting it for our next paper. I think it has handled the NGS explosion very nicely indeed.

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