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CHEST's Rising Impact Factor

Steve WelchBy: Stephen J. Welch, Senior Vice President and Publisher, Publications and Digital Content

It’s a hugely anticipated annual event. Everyone is on edge and anticipating the day that a mysterious higher power bestows joy or sadness across the land. No, it’s not Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, or even the BCS NCAA football rankings. It’s Impact Factor Day. That annual event where journals such as CHEST find out their annual Impact Factor score from the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Journal Citation Reports and their ranking among other journals in the same field.

For CHEST, July 29, 2014, was a big day. The journal’s Impact Factor jumped from 5.85 to 7.132. That’s a significant increase, and we’re thrilled about this reflection of the great work done by Editor in Chief Richard S. Irwin, MD, Master FCCP, the associate editors, editorial board, journal staff, peer reviewers, and the authors who submitted their excellent work.

The sizable increase moved CHEST into the rank of 3rd out of 53 journals in the Respiratory Systems category and 2nd out of 27 journals in the Critical Care Medicine category. And although there is no formally recognized category for Sleep Medicine, if there was, CHEST would likely be ranked #1. So CHEST is among the top journals in its fields of medicine—and we’re happy to see our Impact Factor go up, even if it’s not the be-all-end-all of judging a journal’s merits.

What’s the big deal about Impact Factor, you might ask—and rightly so. You see, the Impact Factor is a fairly simple calculation. It was originally developed by bibliometric guru Eugene Garfield to help librarians figure out which journals in their collection were being read and cited so that they could make better decisions about which publications they should subscribe to. Basically, it’s a calculation of the number of citations to a single journal’s articles in a 2-year period, divided by the number of citable articles that journal published in that period.

In other words:

The 2013 Impact Factor of a journal would be calculated as follows:

  • A = the number of times that all items published in that journal in 2011 and 2012 were cited by indexed publications during 2013.
  • B = the total number of "citable items" published by that journal in 2011 and 2012. ("Citable items" for this calculation are usually articles, reviews, proceedings, or notes, not editorials or letters to the editor.)
  • 2013 impact factor = A/B.

So, it gives a general average of the number of times each article is cited. Clearly, that’s a somewhat imperfect way to judge a journal because one landmark study with high citations can help buoy a number of other articles that might get no citations at all. The Impact Factor has also been the center of a lot of controversy  by critics who have proven it is easily manipulated if journal editors do unethical things like request authors to cite their journal a certain number of times when they revise and resubmit their paper. (This is commonly called “coercive citation” because the authors feel they must do it at the request of the editor or risk having their paper rejected.) This happens more frequently than people care to admit, and sadly it’s quite common in the respiratory field (but I’ll clearly state here that CHEST does NOT engage in this practice). In addition, clinical journals like CHEST are often at a disadvantage in terms of citations because it’s the basic research studies whose methods are often cited most frequently as other researchers build upon their hypotheses with further studies, whereas clinical studies are not replicated as often and, therefore, their methods are not cited as often—that’s another reason CHEST’s recent jump is even more impressive.

But a funny thing happened since Garfield rolled this measure out in the 1960s: the Impact Factor has become THE defacto standard for measuring a journal’s perceived importance and influence. Tenure and compensation committees at academic institutions reward faculty based on the Impact Factor of the journals they publish in. In China, it’s common for authors to receive a monetary bonus based on the Impact Factor of the journals that accept and publish their papers. Now, Garfield has even come out and said this is not what he intended when he created it, but it has taken on a life of its own. That train has left the station—and most journals feel they need to be on board or risk being passed by. 

So in some ways, Impact Factor is a love-hate relationship. Journals like CHEST love it when it goes up because we know it means the journal will garner more attention and be a more likely target for high-level research submissions; we hate it because we know it’s easily manipulated by others and because citations are not the only measure of an article or a journal’s worth and importance. But until another measure comes along that is widely accepted by researchers, academics, and librarians, we’re likely stuck to waiting for the Godot-like release of the new Impact Factor every year.

In the meantime, we’re celebrating the good news. Please join us, because CHEST is a high-quality journal to be proud of, and the CHEST organization is a great place to belong and be active.