Eugene Garfield is widely known as the “father” of the impact factor. He first suggested the concept of an impact factor in 19551, and he jointly created them in the early 1960s, along with Irving H. Sher.2 The use and value of impact factors is controversial for a number of reasons; however their importance is not in doubt, and they remain a key metric in journal publishing today.
Questions remain, of course, about the validity of the impact factor, and in his latest paper published in Collnet Journal of Scientometrics and Information Management Garfield, along with co-author Alexander Pudovkin, examines whether an impact factor depends on just a handful of highly cited papers or is more indicative of wider general citation patterns for that journal, and thereby more representative of the research published in that journal.
The paper can be accessed for free – follow the link below to review the results:
The paper looked at over 500 journals from the 2012 journal citation reports, covering five different subject categories, and examining only articles, reviews, and proceedings papers. Citation frequencies for the median paper for each journal were calculated, with the results showing that these medians were very close to the actual impact factor value:
“… the IF of a journal reflects the overall citedness of the journal, the citedness of the majority of its papers. If the IF value of a journal were due to only a few highly cited papers, specifically solicited by the editors of the journal or just happened to occur in the journal, the citation score would not be correlated with the median paper which may be quite far below from the most cited ones.”
The authors of course point out that there are exceptions to this, but the general trend shows that impact factors still serve as a valuable indicator of the citedness of a journal. To summarize, Garfield and Pudovkin state: “The IF … is an indication of the standing of the journal, its prestige or authority.”
- Garfield, E. “Citation indexes to science: a new dimension in documentation through association of ideas” Science 122(3159):108-11 (1955). http://garfield.library.upenn.edu/essays/v6p468y1983.pdf
- Garfield, E. “The Agony and the Ecstasy — The History and Meaning of the Journal Impact Factor” http://www.psych.utoronto.ca/users/psy3001/files/JCR.pdf