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Guest Editorial

Impact factor under attack! Are the criticisms justified?

Ali, Mohammad Javed

Author Information
Indian Journal of Ophthalmology: April 2021 - Volume 69 - Issue 4 - p 790
doi: 10.4103/ijo.IJO_281_21
  • Open

“If you do good, solid work consistently, you will be recognized,” so said Bruce Beutler, the 2011 Nobel laureate in medicine.[1] Assessing the performance of a scholar or the journal is an integral part of the academics. Research metrics are the basic tools to evaluate such a performance. Journal Impact factor (JIF) has been a mainstay parameter of such metrics since the introduction of its concept in 1955 by Eugene Garfield.[2] The first published ranking of impact factors appeared in 1969.[3] It is simply calculated as follows

Several criticisms of the JIF have been increasingly voiced in the last two decades, with strong opinions on both sides of the divide.[234567] First and the major one is the confusion between evaluating a journal versus evaluating an article. Second, JIF represents average values and can be influenced by a relatively small number of articles. Third, overreliance on JIF while deciding on academic recruitment and promotions. Fourth, difficulty in comparing two fields or, for that matter, subspecialties across medicine. Fifth, JIF does not take into account all the types of articles. Sixth, the heavy influence of the time-factor whereby recent articles, even if novel, would take significant time to get cited. Seventh, JIF lends itself to several manipulations. Eight, undue influence of a size of a given specialty on a JIF. Ninth, influence of review time on JIF.

There have been several organized efforts to address the endless debate on JIF. The Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) at San Francisco is one such example.[5] A group of Nobel laureates speaking at the Nobel Prize inspiration initiative have also stressed about the over dependency on JIF in assessing a research work.[1] The laureates have advised researchers to focus on consistently doing high-quality work rather than getting obsessed with where it is published.[1]

The problem is not as much with the JIF but with the overreliance, misuse, and the undue hype surrounding it. There is nothing wrong with the journals continuing to use them ethically and judiciously. What is wrong is using JIF as a crucial parameter to assess a research work or a researcher‘s output. This justifies the call for increasing use of author and article metrics and a cultural change in the academia. While JIF‘s are plagued with several flaws and are not a direct assessment of a quality, this does not necessarily justify altogether eliminating their use.

While the JIF‘s demise is not yet on the horizon, several complementary and alternate metrics like “altmetrics” are increasingly being used, and this is a good sign. An in-depth assessment of all the opinions discussed amongst major societies, systematic evaluation, and a review of all the known aspects of JIF will help us come to reasonable conclusions and provide directions for the future.

About the author

Dr. Mohammad Javed Ali, MD, PhD, FRCS

Mohammad Javed Ali is presently the Editor-in-Chief of the journal ‘Seminars in Ophthalmology‘ and an internationally recognized Clinician-Scientist. He currently heads the Govindram Seksaria Institute of Dacryology at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, India. Javed is also the Alumni chair of Ophthalmology at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute. He is currently the Hong-Leong Professor at NUHS, Singapore, and Gast Professor at FAU, Germany. Javed is among the rare recipients of the Senior Alexander Von Humboldt Award and the Indian Nobel – the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, the highest multi-disciplinary scientific award by the Government of India. He described 3 new diseases of the lacrimal system along with their classifications and clinicopathologic profiles. He was honored by the 2015 ASOPRS ‘Merill Reeh‘ Award for pathbreaking work in the understanding of etiopathogenesis of punctal stenosis. He is a section editor for 10 journals, associate editor of Survey of Ophthalmology, and has to his credit 451 publications at the time of this writing, and has delivered 321 conference lectures, including 12 keynote addresses. He has conducted 25 instruction courses and 29 live surgical workshops, and has been honored by 35 national and international awards including the 2020 American Academy – ASOPRS ‘Lester T Jones‘ award for outstanding scientific contributions to Ophthalmic Plastics Surgery.

1. The dominance of impact factors.Last accessed on 2021 Jan 26 Available from: The dominance of impact factors - NobelPrize.org
2. Fuster V. Impact factor versus impact to readers: Not necessarily at odds J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64:1753–4
3. Garfield E. The history and meaning of the journal impact factor JAMA. 2006;295:90–3
4. Magnus D. Overthrowing the tyranny of the journal impact factor Am J Bioeth. 2013;13:1–2
5. Misteli T. Eliminating the impact of the impact factor J Cell Biol. 2013;201:651–2
6. Plebani M. Journal impact factor: The debate continues Clin Chem Lab Med. 2013;51:2247–8
7. Bornmann L, Pudovkin AI. The journal impact factor should not be discarded J Korean Med Sci. 2017;32:180–2
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