Impact Factor Warz… again.

I’ve not been blogging or reading too much blog recently. Late last week, in what started as an attempt at cleaning up my blogroll, I rambled on over to Isis place, electronically of course. Seems that esteemed physiologist Isis and open access pioneer Michael Eisen had a bit of a falling out over whether or not one should forgo potential publication in teh glamormagz, and go on the perceived moral high ground to an open access journal instead. I’m pretty sure you know which side Michael Eisen was on…. and as for Isis , she’s got a higher moral high ground.

Larger than the Open Access warz, I feel that I have a moral responsibility to increase the access to science careers for women and minorities. I can’t hold the door open for those folks unless I am standing on the other side of it.

Yeah, although I am not a minority so I don’t have the same perspective as Isis, as a girl with white guys on both sides, I understand at least that part of the sentiment. I really do. But what I don’t quite get- is why the OA-high ground and the increase-of-our-kind-in-STEM-disciplines high ground have to be pitted against each other.

It has been argued by Isis and many others in the comments that glamormagz pubs are essential for advancement in academic science, and I guess I think that interpretation is pretty rigid, at least in my admittedly (but I have gone through tenure, am on P&T, and on numerous hiring committees) limited experience. Why? Because I don’t think that single word journal pubs are necessary for promotion and tenure everywhere. Not every academic institution in this country has the same view of this as Harvard, Stanford, or Berkley. In fact, for the most part, if you have $$$, and a reasonable quality and number of papers as defined by your institution, and you have made an impact on your field that is defined in the letters of your tenure packet (which will be written by experts in your field who should know what your important contributions in your field are above just calling them S/C/N papers), you have done a respectable job at teaching and you have the support of your department members and chair- I don’t know why you wouldn’t get tenure. Despite what Dr. Becca says here….

 If you are a person at any pre-tenure stage of an academic career (incl grad students & post-docs), the reality is that you are judged by a finite number of things: 1) where you did your PhD; 2) who you do your post-doc work with; and 3) the IF of the journals you publish in.

That is not my experience on P&T decisions. Not.even.close.  P&T committees work really hard to try to incorporate lots of factors into the tenure decisions- but it would be foolish not to know that grants funded trumps every item on that list above. (I’m sure someone is going to scream that you need S/C/N papers to get $$, but what are you gonna do)

Nor do I think that the IF of the journal means anything about the impact of your paper published in that journal (as was wisely pointed out by Mr. Gunn in the comments of a follow up post by Dr. Becca).  It seems to me pretty stupid (or just lazy) on the part of a P&T committee to give more weight to a paper published in IF 30 journal, that has been cited 3 times total in 5 years, than to the paradigm shifting paper in the IF 4 society journal that has been cited 500 times in 5 years.  I’ll just note that the identification of Helicobacter Pylori as the causative agent of peptic ulcers was published in a journal none of you would recognize (with an an IF at the time of probably <2 if the trend on ResearchGate is correct, anybody know the IF of the Medical Journal of Australia in the 1980s?). Those guys singlehandedly changed the treatment for that disease and associated conditions, impacting millions of people and winning the Nobel prize in the process. I hope you are not saying that because their findings didn’t appear in S/C/N pub they didn’t have impact? If that is how academic science is today, well, it is pretty (earmuffs) fucked up.

Give the P&T committee as much quantifiable information about the impact of your work as possible, and don’t just rely on journal IF. Set yourself up an account on Google scholar and see precisely how many times each of your papers has been cited in the academic literature. You should include this information in your tenure packet on the citation for each of your papers, highlighted in bold. If it were me, I’d include OA statistics as well on the papers you have published in OA journals – like downloads for example, because I don’t think that there is any one perfect measure of impact and I’m unwilling to settle for any single imperfect measure. Choose the list of people in your sub-field who you will suggest to the chair (when he asks) as your external reviewers with extreme care, talk to some of your trusted colleagues for ideas if necessary. Find someone who lives in the 21st century academia who knows how to do this and can help you be proactive in the preparation of your tenure packet.

Speaking from personal experience, it takes some balls to go OA whole hog. Even after tenure (because you have trainees relying on pubs for future jobs, and it feels like gambling with their futures to go OA all the way). So I try not to vilify others for their choices in this area- but instead I try to make small inroads where I can. I stopped reviewing manuscripts for non-OA journals, I bring up OA whenever I can at my academic society (and with their journals people), I’ve put some of our data into OA journals… and I don’t even utter the word Elsevier unless it is preceded by the words ‘the evil’ .

And now, back to our normally scheduled grant revising program. uuugh.


6 thoughts on “Impact Factor Warz… again.

  1. I stopped reviewing manuscripts for non-OA journals, I bring up OA whenever I can at my academic society (and with their journals people), I’ve put some of our data into OA journals…

    You are saying that you’ve stopped reviewing completely for non-OA journals, but you still publish some of your work in non-OA journals?

  2. I made a terribly offensive botch of a comment, so I will just go with- I don’t *really* think straw men who ONLY care about one issue or the other are anybody I know (they might exist, but there are an encouraging number of people who would like to solve disparities in science and access to research problems).

    I do think the degree to which on issue or the other seems salient might well depend not only one one’s own priorities, but also a level of subdiscipline specific culture. Malaria research doesn’t have the worst record EVER in terms of some flavors of diversity (involvement of international scholars at various career levels, for example, is pretty great compared to e.g. lung cancer pharmacogenetics), but there aren’t as many happy-medium publication venues (there are several 1-3 IF open-access malaria journals, and then some splashy stuff that gets into N/S or PNAS or NEJM/JAMA, without as much in between).
    I’m sure the degree to which you take a career hit depends in part on what the options for your work realistically are (or at least, what the options for your work are thought to be by P/T committees, which might not be the same thing, if you are a microbiologist and your committee is all neuroscientists…)

  3. I’m feeling like an absolute idiot for the glaring omission of “funding” from my list – no idea how that slipped my mind, so I’ll blame the bourbon. I will clarify that I was mostly thinking of criteria for TT hiring as opposed to P/T for faculty, hence the emphasis on things I emphasized, but evidence of funding is obviously huge for getting short-listed for TT searches as well.

    I’ve never been on a P&T committee, but I would imagine that it’s pretty different from a TT hiring committee, in which readers are probably looking for easy ways to create a short list, and things like pedigree and JIF come into play more readily. I would hope that P&T committees spend much more time with individual packets and work to evaluate the actual impact of the candidate’s work. That said, even with taking the serious glamour journals out of the equation, I’m pretty sure that my department would far rather I publish in J Neuroscience or Biological Psychiatry than in PloS One.

  4. 1. No worries Dr Becca- it happens to the best of us.
    2. I agree that there seems to be a cut-off in many places for hiring that folks without S/C/N papers are not short-listed. I don’t like it, reasons for which I would rather not elaborate while I’m helping my daughter with fractions, but it is what it is.
    3. Why is that?

  5. Pingback: Links 9/8/13 | Mike the Mad Biologist

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