With the growing support for DORA and policies like that of HEFCE, which forbids the use of the Impact Factor in assessing researchers, one would think that the power of the Impact Factor would be on the wane. But search and readership data suggests otherwise, even for a journal where it should matter the least.
One of the more interesting parts of running things behind the scenes at The Scholarly Kitchen for the last month or so has been the unfettered access to all the data the blog generates. While it can be easy to over-interpret small sample sizes, there are, however, long term trends that jump out as obvious. For The Scholarly Kitchen, one such trend has been the incredible readership and resilience of any article dealing with PLOS ONE and its Impact Factor.
Since it came out June 20, Phil Davis’ post on The Rise and Fall of PLOS ONE’s Impact Factor has been either the most-read, or the second most-read post each day on The Scholarly Kitchen. In a little over one month, it has become the most-read post for the entire past year (over 39,000 views as of this writing). The second and third most popular posts over that time period? PLOS ONE’s 2010 Impact Factor and PLOS ONE: Is a High Impact Factor a Blessing or a Curse?
Both PLOS ONE and the Impact Factor are hot-button topics. Both have their detractors and, at least in the case of PLOS ONE, there’s a passionate cadre of supporters. So clearly a good amount of the interest and readership stems from the controversy.
But a look at The Scholarly Kitchen’s Search Engine Terms suggests there’s something else at work here. This data shows the terms that were typed into search engines that then led the reader to this blog. The most used search terms are remarkably consistent over the last week, month, quarter, year and the entire life of the blog. Here’s the top ten for the last year:
- plos one impact factor
- scholarly kitchen
- plos one impact factor 2011
- plos one impact factor 2012
- impact factor plos one
- plos one impact factor 2013
- elife impact factor
- the scholarly kitchen
- plos one impact
- plos impact factor
Clearly there are a lot of people out there who want to find out PLOS ONE’s Impact Factor. This goes beyond The Scholarly Kitchen though. A look at Google Trends shows that the number of searches for terms like “plos one impact factor” continue to rise. The geographical data on interest given on that page are interesting as well.
While not a direct indication of causation, that high level of interest does seem well in line with Phil’s suggestion that Impact Factor is a significant driver of submissons to PLOS ONE (as it is for all journals, at least according to Ithaka’s most recent faculty survey, see page 59).
As Phil’s analysis notes, PLOS ONE is a very different sort of beast from traditional journals. Because of its very different design, the Impact Factor does a poor job of measuring how well it is accomplishing its goals. While many of the commenters on Phil’s post suggested much better reasons for choosing PLOS ONE than the Impact Factor, the power that it still seems to hold over the research community suggests that these commenters may either be out of touch with the mainstream researcher, or perhaps a few steps ahead of their colleagues and jumping the gun.
At every editorial board meeting I attend for the journals I manage, we go through the same ritual. The subject of the journal’s Impact Factor comes up, which is followed by a gripe session about how much we all dislike it as a metric, and how badly it’s misused in academia. This is quickly followed by a lengthy session discussing strategies for improving the journal’s Impact Factor because we simply cannot ignore how important it remains for our authors and readers.
While many of us would be happy to be able to leave these conversations behind, we are, at heart, a service industry and must respond to the needs of the community we serve. The growing level of interest shown by search and readership data indicates that, at least for now, Impact Factor remains one of those needs. And even new types of journals, designed to thrive in a post-Impact Factor world, are still somewhat under its sway.