June 23, 2006

Making an Impact

Without fail and every year, the Institute for Scientific Information ranks the major journals of science and medicine by calculating an Impact Factor for every journal whose citation rates it has tracked for more than three years. The Impact Factor is derived by determining how often articles in the tiny minority of journals covered by ISI are cited.

The top journals aren't hard to identify, just ask any dean of medicine or science or engineering or even liberal arts; the Impact Factor of publications for any prospective hiree or candidate for tenure in the social and natural sciences is discussed with ubiquity and perhaps to a fault, replacing perhaps subtle intuitions about which journals would be the "right" place to publish particular research, with mathematical calculations about what happens when you in fact publish taht research in Journal X. So impact Factor has become a very intimidating number for junior scholars because they have to defend to their deans why they'd publish their research about bioethics in the Journal of Medical Ethics rather than Millbank Quarterly or JAMA, or their article about ethical issues in distribution of scarce resources in AJOB rather than Health Economics.

The 2006 publication of Impact Factors by ISI is the first year that The American Journal of Bioethics has been ranked, and although we knew from many of our authors that their articles were receiving more citations than they had expected, we did not expect what ISI found: AJOB is not only the first bioethics journal with an Impact Factor to break 2.0, it also ranks ahead of many journals that we, at least, would have guessed would be far more oft cited and read in the health sciences more generally, e.g. Academic Medicine.

One very important fact to keep in mind - the Impact Factor does not include citations to articles that occur in the same journal in the same year, so for example citations to target articles in AJOB made by open peer commentary authors do not count toward the Impact Factor. Citations of articles within a year after they are published is called Immediacy Index, and there of course the AJOB system conveys a huge advantage in that so many open peer commentary authors cite the target article on which they comment, then go on to cite the whole mess in their other work elsewhere during that year. So our Immediacy Index is more than an order of magnitude above other journals in our category. But Impact Factor excluses all those internal citations. It is an apples to apples comparison of journals in the general area of bioethics and health services research. Congrats to our authors, editors, assistants, and to Taylor & Francis on this recognition of AJOB - and thanks to all of you who read AJOB this year and thought of it as important enough to cite.

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