Impact Factor Takes Another Hit

Times Higher Education reported this month (July 2021) that the European Research Council (ERC), “one of the world’s most prestigious research funders,” has told researchers not to list journal impact factors next to their publications in their applications. The instruction was released on July 14, 2021.

The ERC has also signed up to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), a 2012 statement focused on overhauling the way research is evaluated. We have a past blog post on DORA here.

Multiple articles have pointed out the way impact factors can be manipulated (by authors and by journals), as well as the way the journal impact factor has little relevance to any single article published in that journal. We have written about the problems with the journal impact factor in blog posts here, here, and here.

Despite long-standing and widely published research into the problems with the impact factor metric, in a 2019 survey conducted by the European University Association of approximately 200 institutions, “three-quarters of institutions said that they used [journal impact factor] to evaluate staff performance, more than any other metric.”

Many people who tout the journal impact factor as the be-all, end-all metric for an article are not aware that Journal Citation Reports (the impact factor database) is a proprietary system owned by Clarivate Analytics, that impact factors sit behind an expensive paywall (they are largely inaccessible to nonacademics outside university environments), and that not all journals are evaluated for impact factors. An application process is involved. According to an article at De Gruyter Conversations, “…getting selected for coverage is not an easy task. Each year, Clarivate Analytics editorial staff reviews over 2,000 journals, and only around 10-12% of them are accepted for coverage.”

To recap: Journal Citation Reports is a closed, pay-for-use system that is not universally accessible and does not include all journals.

Instead of impact factor, the ERC will be focusing its evaluation of applications on the applicant’s research area, career stage, publications and their reach (not assessed by impact factor), presentations at conferences, and prizes and awards.

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