Causes for the persistence of impact factor mania

mBio. 2014 Mar 18;5(2):e00064-14. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00064-14.


ABSTRACT Numerous essays have addressed the misuse of the journal impact factor for judging the value of science, but the practice continues, primarily as a result of the actions of scientists themselves. This seemingly irrational behavior is referred to as "impact factor mania." Although the literature on the impact factor is extensive, little has been written on the underlying causes of impact factor mania. In this perspective, we consider the reasons for the persistence of impact factor mania and its pernicious effects on science. We conclude that impact factor mania persists because it confers significant benefits to individual scientists and journals. Impact factor mania is a variation of the economic theory known as the "tragedy of the commons," in which scientists act rationally in their own self-interests despite the detrimental consequences of their actions on the overall scientific enterprise. Various measures to reduce the influence of the impact factor are considered. IMPORTANCE Science and scientists are currently afflicted by an epidemic of mania manifested by associating the value of research with the journal where the work is published rather than the content of the work itself. The mania is causing profound distortions in the way science is done that are deleterious to the overall scientific enterprise. In this essay, we consider the forces responsible for the persistence of the mania and conclude that it is maintained because it disproportionately benefits elements of the scientific enterprise, including certain well-established scientists, journals, and administrative interests. Our essay suggests steps that can be taken to deal with this debilitating and destructive epidemic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Journal Impact Factor*
  • Publishing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Research Personnel / psychology*