SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
16 July 2015
Volume 16 Issue 7
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Packing a Punch: Research Publication Impact

Jen Lynch, SETAC Publications Manager

You may have heard the good news. Recently, the Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Report released the 2014 impact factors. Both SETAC journals have cause to celebrate – Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM) has been accepted into Thomson’s database, the Web of Science, and will receive its first ever impact factor this year (coming in fall). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C) has improved its impact factor by 15% and can now boast an impressive 3.225.

What exactly is the impact factor, and why is it so important?

As I mentioned above, the impact factor is owned and bestowed by Thomson Reuters and offers a quantifiable way to evaluate published research. Researchers all around the world use this number to determine where t0 submit their research, tenure boards weigh citation data when considering applications, and in some cases, authors receive cash awards and promotions from their employer if they get published in high impact factor journals.

The math behind the impact factor is clear and reproducible. Take the total citations (number of times that all papers published in a journal the previous two years were cited in indexed publications in the following year) and divide them by the number of papers published in the previous two years.

2014 impact factor = total citations in 2014/number of journal articles in 2012 and 2013

Therefore, an impact factor of 3.225 means that, on average, each paper published in ET&C one or two years ago has been cited 3.225 times.

Impact Factor

But, this simple metric has been hugely criticized in recent years. Thomson has inconsistent standards for inclusion, and in fact, as we have recently experienced, their secretive selection process can take years and may appear capricious. Other criticisms include journal manipulation, the inability to capture “real world impact,” the limitation of a two-year citation windows (as compared with three or five-year citation window), citation life spans are not recognized as valuable (for example an article published in a conservation journal may be accruing citations over 20 years, whereas an article in a molecular therapy journal could be obsolete in three years) – the list goes on.

We do want the SETAC journals to have a tangible impact on the field, which is best achieved by publishing high-impact research. Whether or not you think of the impact factor as the best way to measure success, it’s here to stay and our editors strive to improve the quality of the research published in the journal pages. Take a moment to congratulate Rick Wenning and Allen Burton on this accomplishment, or better yet, submit your best work to the SETAC journals.

Author's contact information: jen.lynch@setac.org

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