Thursday, July 14, 2011

CMAJ Impact Factor and Impact on Authors

I got an interesting email from the Canadian Medical Association Journal today. The CMAJ informs me that its Impact Factor has increased from 7.3 to 9. So, in the average a paper gets cited 9 times per year during a two year window period right after publication. Congratulations to my colleagues at the CMAJ editing that paper. The journal I edit jointly with Ruth Chadwick, Bioethics, improved its Impact Factor sufficiently to jump into second places among journals publishing primarily bioethics content. We're currently standing at 1.64. This gives us about twice the impact of reportedly more 'prestigious' journals such for instance Ethics which languishes in the vicinity of 0.8 if I am not mistaken. Philosophers, no doubt, will point to the amazing 'quality' of what Ethics publishes, suffice it to say that that quality doesn't seem to result into a great deal of citations (ie use). Now, if a journal does great quality publishing but there's not much evidence of interest in that quality in terms of academics actually using it in their own published research,  how do those claiming 'quality' demonstrate quality? I'm not suggesting that impact equates quality either by the way, but at least impact points to utility, peer reviewed content is demonstrably being used by academics in their peer reviewed outputs. It's a reasonable start toward measuring a journal's relevance as an academic outlet.

Anyhow, I digress, I meant to write about the CMAJ email. Its marketing spiel (marked as 'this is not spam') is aimed at attracting authors to the journal based on its improved impact. Here's the offending line from said email: 'This is good news for authors who publish in CMAJ and hope to have their work cited.' This seems nonsense to me, to be honest. An improved Impact Factor as such is neither here nor there for authors who hope to see their work cited. Here is the reason: Most academics searching for research papers relevant to their own work will not look for particular journals. They will key in keywords in specialist databases (as well as google scholar possibly). Once they find relevant content they will download it via their library's on-line services. Nobody will go any longer into the library to browse a particular journal issue in the hope of finding relevant content there. It would be highly inefficient to do something like that. What determines whether someone cites your work, in this day and age, is whether the journal is widely available on-line, and whether the content of the journal is indexed widely in the relevant data-bases, whether you got the right title, keywords and abstract as well as the right content The Impact Factor as such has no impact on these crucial features that determine whether your paper will be cited. What it does tell us is that the editors of the journal made prudent choices aimed at increasing citations with regard to the papers they accepted, no more, no less. As any investment guru will tell you, current performance is no guarantee of future performance, so as an author you are on your own on this. There's no way you could ride (ie 'benefit') on the coat tails of the journal's improved Impact Factor. It's as simple as that. Let that not stop you at all from submitting relevant content to the CMAJ, just keep in mind that whether or not a paper they accept will be cited or not is up to factors other than their current (or future) Impact Factor. 

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