Friday, March 14, 2014

Academic Journal "Impact Factor"

The latest newsletter of AEJMC -- the mothership of academic organizations for those in journalism and masscomm -- includes an article (page 8) entitled:
Journal Impact Factors and Communcation Studies: A Report from the National Communication Association
You know it's important -- there's a colon in the title. So what's it mean?

Hard to say. This fuzzy article suggests, stunningly, that we should take care in the growing use of impact factors in evaluating academic journals. You can follow the link to read more about impact factors, but basically it's how often a journal is cited. That's the gold standard of research, by the way -- how often other scholars cite your work. The impact factor just cranks the data and feeds back to you a number, one ripe with measurement error and of course one that fails to account for the quality of a particular journal or study published in that journal.

(or, basically, you complain about the number if it doesn't score your work, or your journal, high enough)

The article itself, linked to above, suggests we need "extensive educational and outreach initiatives to educate members, administrators, and other interested parties about the nature and quality of the journal impact factor as a measure of journal quality, research quality, or research influence." Wow. That's a mouthful to say more or less nothing. Another warns we need to "guard against the misuse of journal impact factors and make public examples of such misuse when it occurs" (emphasis mine). I like this one, especially the part of making public examples of people. Academic stocks, maybe? Stoning? I'm not sure.

Okay, enough snark in what is meant to be a well-meaning, if academically overwritten, point, that influence factor scores are a bit misleading but the danger is, especially in promotion and tenure, we may lean on them more heavily than they deserve.That's the lede. That said, while I'm a journalism guy, I'm also a numbers guy, and I'm not terribly upset by the way this score is measured or its "impact" on decision making.

(er, unless you're talking about my journals or my work ...)

Now, all this said, I definitely check on how often my work gets cited. For example, a study I published in 1995 has been cited 95 times, according to Google Scholar. That's not half bad and, based on a quick scanning of colleagues in my college, better than most.

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