The other day a student asked me what “impact factor” means, and I gave him a rather vague, impromptu answer. Well, I just found an editorial from PLoS Medicine that answers this question really well, and describes some emerging alternatives to Thomson Scientific’s Journal Citation Reports®.
The PLoS Medicine Editors (2006) The Impact Factor Game: It is time to find a better way to assess the scientific literature [editorial]. PLoS Med 3(6): e291
Excerpt: We would be lying if we said that our journal’s impending first impact factor is not of interest to us. What PLoS Medicine’s impact factor might be is certainly one of the questions that crops up most regularly in discussions with authors, and because our authors’ opinions matter to us, we are obliged to take it seriously. However, for a number that is so widely used and abused, it is surprising how few people understand how a journal’s impact factor is calculated, and, more importantly, just how limited it is a means of assessing the true impact of an individual publication in that journal.
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