Journal quality, an unexpected improvement of the JCR

It is odd to say, but for researcher the journal as an entity is disappearing. Scientist search for information in online databases and select from title and abstract information whether the article suits their needs. The days that scientists visited the library and browsed the table of contents of the most important journals to keep up with their field have long gone .

Still there is a lot of emotion around journals titles. Scientist want to publish their research in the best possible journal. Earlier this year the NOWT (2008) published a report on the performance of Dutch universities and there it was clearly shown that field normalized citation impact for each university correlated positively with the field normalized journal quality.
Journal quality versus Citation impact

Looking at this graph it is clear that there is considerable reason to selected the best journals in their field to publish your results. However, until recent the only widely available journal quality indicator has been the journal impact factor. There has been a lot of criticism on the uses and abuses of impact factors, but they have stood their time. All scientists are at least aware of impact factors. For years ISI, Thomson Reuters were in fact the sole gate keepers of journal quality rankings.

Over the last years a number of products, free and fee based, have tried to come up with new and competing journal ranking measures. SicmagoJR (based on Scopus data), journal analyzer from Scopus, and the data from Thomson’s own Essential Science Indicators of course.

This week Thomson Reuters announced that they will update the journal citation report. From the 1st of February we get a entirely new Journal Citation Report. From the press release:

  • Five-Year Impact Factor – provides a broader range of citation activity for a more informative snapshot over time.
  • Journal “Self Citations” – An analysis of journal self citations and their contribution to the Journal Impact Factor calculation.
  • Graphic Displays of Impact Factor “Box Plots” – A graphic interpretation of how a journal ranks in different categories.
  • Rank-in-Category Tables for Journals Covering Multiple Disciplines – Allows a journal to be seen in the context of multiple categories at a glance rather than only a single one.

It is highly unusual to see two updates per year for JCR. But it is interesting to to note how they are moving under the pressure of some competition.

NOWT (2008). Wetenschaps- en Technologie- Indicatoren 2008. Maastricht, Nederlands Observatorium van Wetenschap en Technologie (NOWT). (in Dutch)

Self citations do work

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchIn a very extensive article van Raan has studied the effect of self citations on the total citations to a groups’ work. In the concluding paragraph van Raan writes:

[] external citations are enhanced by self-citations, so that we have the “chain reaction:” Larger size leads to more self-citations, which lead to more external citations. This mechanism is strongest for the lower impact journals—they “make size work”—as well as for higher performance groups. In other words, lower impact journals enable research groups more than do higher impact journals to “advertise” their other work by means of self-citations.

Most interesting to note about this article was that van Raan cited himself 11 times out of 28 in total. It may seem to be a bit excessive, but stresses his point excellently.

Another point that I always stress within the theme of publication strategy is to consider Open Acces publishing. Since the last few years I have noted that van Raan is publishing his articles in OA on Arxiv. His group has not (yet) demonstrated the advantage of OA publishing on citation impact scientifically yet, but the master of scientometrics is putting it into practice anyway. Something to be considered by every researcher very seriously.

van Raan, A. F. J. (2008). Self-citation as an impact-reinforcing mechanism in the science system. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 59(10): 1631-1643.