Correspondence | Published:

Impact-factor rewards affect Spanish research

Nature volume 417, page 898 (27 June 2002) | Download Citation



In Spain, as in Finland1, publication of research reports in journals with a high impact factor has since 1989 officially been part of the national system for evaluating researchers' productivity. But unlike the Finnish system, the Spanish system rewards individuals rather than departments or institutions.

As stated in the Spanish parliamentary record2,3, a bonus is awarded only for “those articles of scientific worth in journals of recognized prestige in the field. As a quality indicator, the relevance of the medium of dissemination in which each article was published shall be considered. In those disciplines for which international systems of quality of publications exist, reliance on these systems shall be obligatory.”

What exactly are these “systems of quality of publication”? In mathematics and physics, chemistry, cell and molecular biology, medicine, natural science, engineering and architecture, economics and social science, the law specifies that “preference shall be given to those contributions consisting of articles in journals of recognized prestige, which shall be accepted to mean those that occupy relevant positions in the lists for science fields in the Subject Category Listings of the Journal Citation Reports of the Science Citation Index (Institute for Scientific Information [ISI], Philadelphia, PA, USA)” (ref. 4). For the first four fields, the National Commission for the Evaluation of Research Activity (CNEAI) recommends that articles should be published in journals that occupy a relevant position in the pertinent ranking, which is understood to mean the upper third of the listing ranked by impact factor. There may, however, be some flexibility under special circumstances at the discretion of the experts. The aim of this reward system is to improve the quality of Spanish science and its visibility in journals.

The consequences of this law have been first, a change in Spanish scientists' publication habits; second, an increase in the number of Spanish source items in the ISI databases5,6; and third, a levelling off of source items in Spanish bibliographic databases7. Spanish scientific productivity has doubled: more than twice as many papers were published between 1991 (immediately after the system of publication bonuses was passed into law) and 1998 compared with the period 1982–1990. The acceleration in national publication output cannot be attributed to increased financial support (research budgets had begun to shrink in real terms by 1991), international collaboration or mobility of researchers, nor can it be attributed to an overall increase in scientific activity8.

We thank K. Shashok for translating this Correspondence into English.


  1. 1.

    Nature 415, 726–729 (2002).

  2. 2.

    Boletín Oficial del Estado 28563 (9 September 1989).

  3. 3.

    Boletín Oficial del Estado 3566 (6 February 1990); Boletín Oficial del Estado 37030 (3 December 1994).

  4. 4.

    Boletín Oficial del Estado 35028 (20 November 1996).

  5. 5.


  6. 6.

    , , Science 276, 883–884 (1997).

  7. 7.

    , , , Arbor 639, 327–345 (1999).

  8. 8.

    , , Research Policy 2002 (in the press).

Download references

Author information


  1. *Department of Library and Information Science, School of Library and Information Science, University of Granada, 18071 Granada, Spain

    • Evaristo Jiménez-Contreras
    • , Emilio Delgado López-Cózar
    •  & Rafael Ruiz-Pérez
  2. †Former director, National Commission for the Evaluation of Research Activity (CNEAI), Department of Biocatalysis, Institute of Catalysis, CSIC, 28049 Madrid, Spain

    • Víctor M. Fernández


  1. Search for Evaristo Jiménez-Contreras in:

  2. Search for Emilio Delgado López-Cózar in:

  3. Search for Rafael Ruiz-Pérez in:

  4. Search for Víctor M. Fernández in:

About this article

Publication history



Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Newsletter Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing