Scrambling for higher metrics in the Journal Impact Factor bubble period: a real-world problem in science management and its implications


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Universities and funders in many countries have been using Journal Impact Factor (JIF) as an indicator for research and grant assessment despite its controversial nature as a statistical representation of scientific quality. This study investigates how the changes of JIF over the years can affect its role in research evaluation and science management by using JIF data from annual Journal Citation Reports (JCR) to illustrate the changes. The descriptive statistics find out an increase in the median JIF for the top 50 journals in the JCR, from 29.300 in 2017 to 33.162 in 2019. Moreover, on average, elite journal families have up to 27 journals in the top 50. In the group of journals with a JIF of lower than 1, the proportion has shrunk by 14.53% in the 2015–2019 period. The findings suggest a potential ‘JIF bubble period’ that science policymaker, university, public fund managers, and other stakeholders should pay more attention to JIF as a criterion for quality assessment to ensure more efficient science management.

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    • Figure 1. An example of the SQL code
    • Figure 2. Distribution of JCR-covered journals for 2019 against JIF 2018 ranges
    • Figure 3. Growth rates of JIF groups, 2015–2019
    • Table 1. Top 50 journals by JIF, JCR 2017–2019
    • Table 2. Cumulative numbers of journals against progressive JIF levels
    • Table 3. Numbers of journals and JIF thresholds for top groups and Q1/Q2/Q3 groups