A traditional, objective measure of scholarly journals is the Impact Factor (IF). First formulated by Eugene Garfield in the 1950s, the premise is to measure the propagation of ideas as expressed in subsequent research and opinion.
There are well-known deficiencies with the IF, but I think the current deficiency that’s being revealed is the scope of it — or the lack thereof. Citation is occurring in new ways, and scientific thinking is not always propagated via the published scientific article.
Take, for instance, Twitter posts and blog posts about scholarly journal articles and findings, a good many done by peers in the field. These certainly qualify, philosophically, as propagation of scientific ideas and as published records of citation, yet these don’t count in IF scores.
Consider video, where references are concealed in a format that is locked and linear.
Consider Wikipedia, or any of the special “-pedias” out there, where scientific information is cited regularly and reliably. These are legitimate citations.
As I asked in a post last summer, are we watching the wrong things?
The IF as it currently stands is a reflection of a publishing paradigm that has been outstripped by modern communication technologies, preferences, and practices.
There’s no denying the underlying brilliance of Garfield’s observations and his realization of theory. But it is bound to the publishing technology, practices, and limitations of a bygone era.
The opportunity is apparent — adapt the IF to a communications environment that goes well beyond the printed journal, the printed article, the formal citation list.
Citation is a function more commonly and quickly realized today through linking.
If the true measure of “impact” is about measuring the propagation of scientific ideas, then the IF needs to be fundamentally re-thought. Otherwise, we’re only getting a view into printed citation lists — and those are having less and less of an impact on our intellectual lives with each passing year.