Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The future of scientific publishing... Is Thomson under fire?

In a nice editorial that came to my acquaintance, Koen Martens, the editor-in-chief of Hydrobiologia, makes a nice overview of the current state of scientific publishing world, as well as, envisaging the near future.

You can get it here: http://springerlink.com/content/1501276217582647/fulltext.pdf (it is of open access)

Of particular interest are the issues of the impact factors and their values (from Thomson’s ISI). Actually, it was only after reading this editorial that I realized that there are already several publications that, as I expected through my discussions with several colleagues, question the validity of these impact factors and on the excessive importance that they actually have (e.g., promotion or hiring of personel, grant applications, salary bonuses). Actually in an interesting editorial of The Journal of Cell Biology, it is questioned the validity of Thomson Scientific impact factors and the inability of the company to give the basic data used to calculate the impact factors. This editorial gives some nice insights on how this data can somehow be manipulated in order to improve a journal impact factor.

I think that most of the current problems are due to a lack of competition on this area. However, just recently some new tools are available that can provide further insights on the impacts that a specific publication is having. As presented in Nature, a free journal-ranking tool is now available through SCImago (since December of last year). It is called SCImago Journal & Country Rank database and presents a new rank called SJR, that analyses the citation links between journals in a series of iterative cycles, similarly as Google PageRank algorithm. Therefore not all the citations are considered equally, with those coming from journals with higher SJR having more weight. Also, contrarily to the two year citation window of JCR impact factors, the SJR ranking uses the last three years and the Scopus reference database.

From my initial tests this ranking seems to be very interesting, but the rooting of the current impact factors is so deep that I envisage a long period before this or other ranks can start to be considered. At least this a beginning.

You can test it in here for free: http://www.scimagojr.com/index.php.

A similar citation index is the Eigenfactor (http://www.eigenfactor.org/), that despite being based on Thomson data, also uses the method behind Google's PageRank.

So, as Declan Butler said in his news section in Nature, is Thomson going to be under fire?

P.S. Many thanks to my colleague Bruno Castro (Department of Biology, University of Aveiro) for sending me the editorial that originated this post, and I hope, future discussion on impact factors.

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