What is an impact factor?

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As a rule, authors write research articles based on previous studies of other scientists and make their own conclusions and proposals. Consequently, they use in their works the developments of colleagues, citing their research works. There is a special indicator, namely, a citation index which shows how many times the articles of a certain author have been used (cited) in the works of other authors. There is a tendency that the scientist, whose articles are published in the periodicals with a high impact factor, has a large citation index.

The idea arose and developed under the control of Eugene Garfield – a PhD holder in philosophy and a founder of the part of Thomson Reuters–Thomson Scientific Corporation - who in early 1960s, together with colleagues developed a method of calculating an impact factor. The aim was to determine the value of a scientific publication.

How to calculate an impact factor?

To determine an impact factor, there is used a special formula which provides for the calculation of data for three years.
IF 2019 = A/B where
A is a number of citations for 2017 in the journals tracked by the Institute for Scientific Information and articles published in this journal in 2017-2018;

B is a number of articles published in this journal in 2017-2018.

What is an impact factor needed for?

The impact factor is rather an important criterion for comparing the level of research in related fields of knowledge. With its help it is possible to determine what research deserves financial investment, with which scientists one should establish contact and start cooperation.

Impact factor is taken into account in evaluating the level of publications of Web of Science, the RSCI and other scientometric databases as well as the quality of articles published in them.  Despite the importance of impact factor in scientometrics, the majority of people take this indicator in the ambiguous way because it has both its advantages and disadvantages.
The impact factor gained popularity for the wide coverage of indexed scientific literature (more than 8 400 journals from 60 countries), publicity and availability of information, simple mechanism of use and large requirements of peer reviewers to articles.

Periodicals with a high impact factor are more attractive for publication. Consequently, their editorial boards have a large number of articles. But, having a wide selection, the periodicals can improve their ratings even more.

They get quality articles even more than they can publish and, therefore, make stricter a peer review process. As a result, we get high-quality publications exceptionally with high-quality and useful scientific materials that "passed the selection".

Despite its advantages, an impact factor is not an ideal scientometric indicator.

Scientists consider that the quality and value of a research work is not directly related to an impact factor of the journal where it is published.

One should also pay attention that the time intervals between the acceptance of an article and its publication differs in different periodicals, and in some of them they can last two years. Then for citation, namely, the references taken into account in the calculations, remains about a year. Consequently, such an indicator can not be fully objective.

In different fields of science, research has its particularities and time constraints, resulting in different frequency of publication that has a specific effect on the numerical value of an impact factor. For example, an impact factor of medical journals is often higher than that of mathematic ones.

It is fairly noted that it is impossible to evaluate a publication's importance, taking into account only an impact factor because there are ways to artificially increase this indicator,

  • such as;
  • self-citation;
  • citation sale;
  • mutual contractual exchange of citations between periodicals;
  • publication of a small number of articles (impact factor is lower with a large number of articles because not all published articles are cited).

What do we have in the result? Is an impact factor important in the modern scientific world? 

It goes without saying that it is a useful tool for evaluating the quality of periodicals. But it would be a mistake to perceive it as the only truth. The approach to determining a journal's importance should be comprehensive with the use a variety of significance indicators. Then the results will be efficient and objective.

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