Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bioethics and Developing World Bioethics show improved impact factors

As you probably know, I am a co-editor of two peer reviewed international journals called Bioethics and Developing World Bioethics. Each year a commercial Canadian outfit called ISI (owned by Thomson Reuters) delivers its verdict on journals' impact (often confused with quality by journalists, academics and university administrators).

Publishers invariably get excited about their journals as good impact factors mean 'better' journals mean better marketing opportunities mean more money. There is plenty of evidence to go around that the impact factor is highly unreliable (in fact, ISI failed to reproduce, on request, its own impact factors in several test cases). Still, much like donors, students and government funders take notoriously nonsensical university rankings as their gospel, academics use high-ranked journals as preferred outlets and so this stuff becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In many universities academics are receiving bonuses for publishing in high-ranking journals. The idea is that a high-ranking journal is difficult to get into and voila, another quality standard is born. Duly, once you're high-ranking individual national science agencies begin dumping A's and similar rankings on you. More incentives for academics working under the influence of these agencies to publish in 'A' ranked journals. Of course, this all translates into creating self-fulfilling prophecies. It seems it hasn't occurred to anyone yet that a 'journal' publishing one article per year that gets cited a lot would have a stratospheric impact factor, and it would be difficult to get published in. So that useless journal with its one article per volume would be very 'prestigious' on the relevant counts.

This year ISI has increased the number of non-English journals it ranks, but there's an inherent bias in its ranking of these journals as ISI has no way to actually measure the citations of these journals reliably. As a result of the new inclusion policies these journals rank consistently low and assist in artificially boosting the group ranking of English language journals. For instance, a little-known English language bioethics journal that normally would have been safely ensconded on the bottom of the ranking is now being surpassed in the race to the bottom by Italian and German language bioethics journals.

Anyhow, this is just to report that Bioethics increased its impact factor to 1.136 while Developing World Bioethics, in its first entry scored a nice 1.256. Both journals managed to 'beat' quite a few very well-known competing publications. So all is good on the journals front. In a list of 34 journals in the 'ethics' category we made it to ranks 7 and 9 respectively,

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