Home > Editorial > Editorial (Sixth Issue)

Editorial (Sixth Issue)


Does the Impact Factor reflect the real impact?


What is the impact factor of this journal?

What is your total impact factor?

What is the average impact factor of your publications?

Well, these are some of the very common questions we encounter every now and then, being related to the field of academics and/or research. Many a times, we keep on running after these two golden words, “Impact factor” without even realising its root and hence pros and cons. The reason being that it has a tremendous influence in one’s professional life and that, it is now not restricted to any particular territory, but is a global fact. Important decisions of individual and institutional professional career are taken based on impact factor, even now a days the idea of national impact factor has also emerged in order to access the relative scientific contribution of nations. Since introduction of this citation based system of ranking journals, it has also been in the heat of criticism, even then Impact Factor continues to “rock or rob” us because we don’t have any better and globally acceptable alternative to it. Today, through this editorial, we will try to throw some light on this important system of judging scientific merit.

What is an impact factor?

The concept of impact factor was devised by Eugene Garfield, the founder of the Institute for Scientific Information. The yearly calculation of Impact factors of journals listed in the Journal Citation Reports was started from 1975.

The impact factor (IF) of a journal is a measure of the frequency in which the average article in a journal has been cited in a particular year. It is used to measure the importance or rank of a journal by calculating the times it’s articles are cited. (https://researchguides.uic.edu/if/impact, accessed online in March/2018).

How impact factor of journals are calculated:

In any given year, the impact factor of a journal is the number of citations, received in that year, of articles published in that journal during the two preceding years, divided by the total number of articles published in that journal during the two preceding years.


X = The number of times articles published in 2016 and 2017 were cited by indexed journals during 2018.

Y= The total number of “citable items” published in 2016 and 2017.

Then, X/Y = Impact factor for the year 2018. 


Criticism of Impact Factor:

Going by the formula for calculation of Impact Factor, it is evident that it is dependent on the total citation of all the articles published in a particular journal over a period of two years (usually). So, it does not reflect the merit of individual article. In many cases, larger part of the total citation of a journal comes from a few selected articles but the credit is given to all the articles published. So, impact factor is clearly handicapped in reflecting the differential merit of articles published in a particular journal and nobody can claim that all the articles are of equal merit. This popular parameter of ranking journals is also criticised for creating an unhealthy situation among the academicians/researchers in which the actual goal of science is being defeated and there is an increasing tendency among the authors to publish more citable popular articles hence making the orientation of research skewed towards directions leading to more citable papers. It is the rat race for the impact factors, which is responsible for deviating the focus of research from areas important for the basic development of science and society but may be, are less citable and naturally they are not the hot bed of global research. This is the reason for which, the largest single life science society composed of over 50,000 scientists and health professionals, American Society of Microbiology (ASM) has discontinued displaying the impact factor of journals published by them in their website. As an increase in the total number of articles published within a specific period (the denominator in the formula for calculation of impact factor) negatively influences the impact factor, high impact factor journals are under a constant pressure of limiting the number of their articles. So, many a times genuine articles with appropriate scientific merit and message, communicated especially from the developing world are at higher risk of getting rejected in reputed journals as the business of citation is also reported to have geographical bias and there are claims that even standard literatures published from developing and under developed countries are less cited globally. Irrespective of the scientific merit, papers related to very specific core area of sciences and some hard core professional research papers, dealt by handful of workers globally, tend to have lower citation leading to lower impact factor, is another pitfall of this system.

Through the sun and the rain of praise and criticism, Impact factor has reached to today’s stage and is in wide use globally for decades. Many, who support impact factor, are of the view that it is one of the very simple and conveniently usable parameter for ranking journals. In the year 2002, Glanzel and Moed in one of their articles titled “Journal Impact Measures in Bibliometric Research” published in the journal “Scientometrics” have regarded impact factor to be “the most popular bibliometric product used in bibliometrics”. So, it is definitely one of the parameters of evaluation but it should not be the only criteria to judge one’s scientific merit as it is in extensive practice at present in most cases of assessment and policy making globally.

Leave a Reply