Many academic researchers still consider the journal impact factor a key metric in their career progression, despite long-standing concerns over its use in assessing journal quality.
A recent survey of 55 universities in the US and Canada showed that 36% of researchers consider the impact factor to be ‘very valued’ for promotions and tenure, and 27% said they were ‘very important’ when deciding where to submit their research. Younger and non-tenured researchers put more emphasis on impact factors when deciding where to publish, which the authors link to the perceived tenure process.
In what appears to be misconstrued peer pressure, researchers tended to perceive that their colleagues were more driven by the impact factor than them, and that they valued readership and open access less. In comments made to Nature Index, the lead author, Meredith Niles, calls for more honest conversations in academia: “If we don’t actually care about the journal impact factor as much as factors such as readership…then let’s stop pretending we care…”
But change needs to come at an institutional level. As reported in Nature Index, a previous study from the same project showed that 23% of the North American universities studied referred to impact factors or related phrases in at least one of their review, promotion, and tenure documents, and nearly 90% of the institutions supported their use. The study authors note this is probably the tip of the iceberg, and call for further research to support efforts such as Humane Metrics in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HuMetricsHSS) and the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) in changing the values underlying academic evaluation.