Irish Journal of Medical Science

, Volume 182, Issue 4, pp 541–541 | Cite as

The impact of impact factors and the ethics of publication

  • J. F. X. Jones

“All science is measurement” Galileo Galilei

But not all measurement is science. The introduction of Journal impact factors was a logical step for librarians to take efficient stock of their holdings. However, it is a lazy step for Academics to measure science. The impact factor of a Journal is defined as a quotient and calculated by dividing the total annual number of citations by the total number of citable articles published. However, problems arise because the impact factor is an arithmetic mean. If one journal publishes 100 papers each of which is cited three times the impact factor is 3 and treated as equivalent to a second journal in which 99 papers receive no citations and one paper receives 300 citations. The equation which best describes the mathematical distribution of Journal impact factors is still disputed but it appears to be power function (i.e., more often like the second case described above than the first). Another problem with impact factor is that the denominator of the quotient (number of citable articles) is not objective, i.e., which articles are deemed citable? One impact of impact factors has been to increase unethical editorial practices. A record number of journals (66) were removed by Thompson Reuters in the journal citation list this year [1]. These Journals were banned for citation stacking and excessive self-citation. A recent article in Science described a predictive model of the factors which influence coercive self-citation using game theory [2]. Editors are more likely to coerce authors to include inappropriate citations of their journal if the authors are of junior rank, the paper has few authors and is published by a commercial company. Certain insidious practices are also commonplace such as insisting authors always cite a particular journal article which describes a guide to methods or ironically a guide to ethical practice.

Perhaps the most positive impact of impact factors is that it may stimulate editors to reflect on the true purpose of their particular Journal. While it is important that ground breaking discoveries are published in Journals with high citation records, such discoveries should be rare and consequently these kinds of Journals should also be rare. The Irish Journal of Medical Science is the principal publication instrument of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland. It has the purpose of representing the current research activities of the Academy’s sections. Although focused on Irish Medical Science it retains a truly global impact. It is now accessible in 7,844 institutions worldwide and North America has the largest percentage of downloads. Potential authors should be assured that their original research will reach a broad readership which appropriately reflects the diverse branches of Medical Science found on the pages of this Journal.


  1. 1.
  2. 2.
    Wilhite AW, Fong EA (2012) Coercive citation in academic publishing. Science 335:542–543PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Medicine and Medical ScienceUniversity College DublinDublinIreland

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