The 2012 Journal Impact Factors are out

June 24, 2013

Naturally this is a time for a resurgence of blathering about how Journal Impact Factors are a hugely flawed measure of the quality of individual papers or scientists. Also it is a time of much bragging about recent gains….I was alerted to the fact that they were out via a society I follow on Twitter bragging about their latest number.


Of course, one must evaluate such claims in context. Seemingly the JIF trend is for unrelenting gains year over year. Which makes sense, of course, if science continues to expand. More science, more papers and therefore more citations seems to me to be the underlying reality. So the only thing that matters is how much a given journal has changed relative to other peer journals, right? A numerical gain, sometimes ridiculously tiny, is hardly the stuff of great pride.

So I thought I’d take a look at some journals that publish drug-abuse type science. There are a ton more in the ~2.5-4.5 range but I picked out the ones that seemed to actually have changed at some point.
Neuropsychopharmacology, the journal of the ACNP and subject of the abovequoted Twitt, has closed the gap on arch-rival Biological Psychiatry in the past two years, although each of them trended upward in the past year. For NPP, putting the sadly declining Journal of Neuroscience (the Society for Neuroscience’s journal) firmly behind them has to be considered a gain. J Neuro is more general in topic and, as PhysioProf is fond of pointing out does not publish review articles, so this is expected. NPP invented a once-annual review journal a few years ago and it counts in their JIF so I’m going to score the last couple of years’ of gain to this, personally.

Addiction Biology is another curious case. It is worth special note for both the large gains in JIF and the fact it sits atop the ISI Journal Citation Reports (JCR) category for Substance Abuse. The first jump in IF was associated with a change in publisher so perhaps it started getting promoted more heavily and/or guided for JIF gains more heavily. There was a change in editor in there somewhere as well which may have contributed. The most recent gains, I wager, have a little something to do with the self-reinforcing virtuous cycle of having topped the category listing in the ISI JCR and having crept to the top of a large heap of ~2.5-4.5 JIF behavioral pharmacology / neuroscience type journals. This journal had been quarterly up until about two years ago when it started publishing bimonthly and their pre-print queue is ENORMOUS. I saw some articles published in a print issue this year that had appeared online two years before. TWO YEARS! That’s a lot of time to accumulate citations before the official JIF window even starts counting. There was news of a record number of journals being excluded from the JCR for self-citation type gaming of the index….I do wonder why the pre-print queue length is not of concern to ISI.

PLoS ONE is an interest of mine, as you know. Phil Davis has an interesting analysis up at Scholarly Kitchen which discusses the tremendous acceleration in papers published per year in PLoS ONE and argues a decline in JIF is inevitable. I tend to agree.

Neuropharmacology and British Journal of Pharmacology are examples of journals which are near the top of the aforementioned mass of journals that publish normal scientific work in my fields of interest. Workmanlike? I suppose the non-perjorative use of that term would be accurate. These two journals bubbled up slightly in the past five years but seem to be enjoying different fates in 2012. It will be interesting to see if these are just wobbles or if the journals can sustain the trends. If real, it may show how easily one journal can suffer a PLoS ONE type of fate whereby slightly elevated JIF draws more papers of a lesser eventual impact. While BJP may be showing the sort of virtuous cycle that I suspect Addiction Biology has been enjoying. One slightly discordant note for this interpretation is that Neuropharmacology has managed to get the online-to-print publication lag down to some of the lowest amongst its competition. This is a plus for authors who need to pad their calendar-year citation numbers but it may be a drag on the JIF since articles don’t enjoy as much time to acquire citations.


27 Responses to “The 2012 Journal Impact Factors are out”

  1. dr24hours Says:

    Does anyone have an actual link to a place where I can look up IFs? I’ve never found one despite extensive googling.


  2. dr24hours Says:

    Also: two years is nothing in my field. Look at Operations Research or Management Science. Four years from acceptance to print is common.


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    Journal Citation Reports is something that typically requires institutional access so the best thing to do is snoop around the database listing on your digital library’s page.

    Many journals post their score, however. Somewhere on the journal’s home page there will be a link or a statement.


  4. drugmonkey Says:

    two years is nothing in my field

    Indeed. As with everything JIF, the subfield of interest matters tremendously.

    This is why my comments focus on mine. I know very little about the entire JIF picture of fields unrelated to mine.


  5. dr24hours Says:

    This is why my comments focus on mine. And that’s wholly appropriate. I wasn’t criticizing. In neurosci, it seems that a JIF of 6 is low. Whereas, in medical specialties, 6 would be incredibly high. There are plenty of very highly regarded medical journals with JIFs under 2.


  6. drugmonkey Says:

    In neurosci, it seems that a JIF of 6 is low.

    That depends entirely on who you are speaking with. I would not describe this as “low” at all for “neuroscience”. Neuron and Nature Neuroscience at 15.something are the TopicGlamours- basically as good as it gets without being CNorS.

    JIF 7-9 represents a distinct zone, I would argue, wherein there are not that many journals that would take a given specialty. J Neuro has a reputation that exceeds its actual JIF, btw. I would say on the whole it is more respected than NPP or Biological Psychiatry….although obviously those who publish there would beg to differ 🙂

    The 2-5 or so range is heavily populated with journals that are clearly respectable. That is, if you consider that lots and lots of the people considered to be the top of the field deign to publish in them. I don’t know what “highly regarded” means exactly but I wouldn’t use this to describe this particular range of journals. Workmanlike.


  7. Dave Says:

    Usually the Web Of Knowledge site is where you can get institutional access to the JCR.


  8. dr24hours Says:

    So, if a journal isn’t listed at JCR, what does that mean?


  9. DrugMonkey Says:

    It sucks?


  10. DrugMonkey Says:

    (Actually I just saw an “unofficial impact factor” listed at a BMC journal yesterday. So the answer is “they will calculate their own”.)


  11. Grumble Says:

    What a complete joke it is that Bull Psych and Neuropsychopharmacobabble-ology both have higher IFs than J Neurosci. The latter journal especially is a decent psychopharm journal, but both are very topic-specific. Whereas J Neurosci is quite broad and what’s more, is increasingly hard to publish in.

    If it really is the review articles that pump up the IF, then Thomson-Reuters or AP-UPI or whatever the fuck they’re calling themselves these days should really compute the metric two ways: including and excluding reviews. Until they do that, their numbers are a joke and should be publicly derided.


  12. DJMH Says:

    I really don’t get the slow slide of J Neurosci. They don’t publish reviews, but that shouldn’t cause their number to *decrease* year-over-year. They also added a disease-relevant section five years ago(ish) that should have bumped their numbers. And as you say, neuro is a growing field. I am thinking that the time to publish has increased everywhere, so that is a background factor with that ridiculous 2-year limit? But why else?? Goodness knows it hasn’t gotten easier to publish there.


  13. Mike_F Says:

    So, if a journal isn’t listed at JCR, what does that mean?”

    If it’s a new journal, it won’t get listed until it has published a full year’s worth of papers and those had two years chance to get cited, so the earliest it can get an IF is in the middle of its 4’th year of publishing.


  14. drugmonkey Says:

    I really don’t get the slow slide of J Neurosci.

    One possibility is a sort of live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword rationale.

    That is, the traditional target audience for JNeuro is proportionally GlamourDouche and they are being sucked away into Neuron and Nature Neuroscience for their best papers. In ever-increasing numbers. Then, being GlamourDouches, they tend to cite only the ShinyPapers in GlamourMags.

    At the same time, the “increasingly hard to publish it” factor is driving out the real scientists who used to squeak in there every so often and cited it like crazy because it was their top normal journal.

    ahh, if only someone would geek away at the distribution of citations over time, perhaps we could gain clarity on whether the outlying extremely high citation papers are dropping away or if the middlin’-high ones are just getting fewer cites or what….


  15. drugmonkey Says:

    The latter journal especially is a decent psychopharm journal, but both are very topic-specific. Whereas J Neurosci is quite broad

    Might this not be the reason? We know citations are highly dependent on subfield size and practice. So if a given specialty journal targets a higher-citing subfield within the broader umbrella of neuroscience this would make sense, no?


  16. AA Says:

    I’m not surprised that PLoS ONE IF is tanking, and since IF calculations has some lag time, it won’t be surprising to see the IF tank down to 2ish over the next few years or so.

    As I’ve argued before, if you want to publish in a dump journal, it’s better to go to a dump journal for your field. Won’t be surprised if 3 years from now, people got “burned” in PLoS ONE because they were impressed with its relatively decent IF of 4+ish (comparable to most dump journals right)? It will probably be 2-ish in the future if PLoS ONE continues to publish everything and anything under the sun…


  17. Spiny Norman Says:

    Another reason journals like J Neurosci are seeing IF’s go down is citation limits in other journals. These increase likelihood of review article citation and decrease likelihood of primary lit citation. For a journal that publishes no reviews that is a double hit.


  18. drugmonkey Says:


    but in a context where most journals’ IFs are increasing why would JNeuro suffer this fate?


  19. Grumble Says:

    “Might this not be the reason? We know citations are highly dependent on subfield size and practice. So if a given specialty journal targets a higher-citing subfield within the broader umbrella of neuroscience this would make sense, no?”

    But why would it change over time? If psychopharmacologists have 2x more references per paper than, say, cognitive neuroscientists today, presumably they were also doing that 10 years ago.


  20. DJMH Says:

    Grumble, that’s only true if there are, in essence, no fads or trends in research. Which I think we can all agree is demonstrably false–fields wax and wane depending on the perceived relevance of the questions, the techniques available to pursue those questions, and of course the grant money available for research in those areas. None of those is static.


  21. AcademicLurker Says:

    AA – the thing with PLoS ONE is that when a paper in my area appears there it’s generally been pretty good (as in stuff that’s well executed and that I’ve actually found useful in my own research).

    The same can’t be said for most of the papers that appear in the “dump journals” of my field.


  22. drugmonkey Says:

    None of those is static.

    So DJMH, are you proposing that JNeuro is gradually (slowly) losing the trendiness and failing to keep up with the latest techniques and topics?


  23. Anon Says:

    It’s one interpretation, but it isn’t consistent with what I see in the journal, which is quite broad in audience. Maybe their biggest problem is that it gets a lot of me-too stuff from people who narrowly got scooped at the higher IF journals. (This is not *exactly* the way you phrased it in your earlier comment about douches.)

    But I’ve got no idea, really.


  24. DJMH Says:

    Whoops, that was me.


  25. Sorujsiri Says:

    Would you please explain why some journals used to be in impact factor list for several years but just disappear from the IF list in 2012 such as the african journal of microbiology research?


  26. DrugMonkey Says:

    Was it one of the ones suspended for trying to manipulate the ranking with self-citation?


  27. Sorujsiri Says:

    Thanks for information. Will the journal that is suspened back to the impact factor list?


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