A hundred years or so ago, a patent officer who was bored with his routine work wrote up his speculations on light quanta (A. Einstein Ann. Phys. 17, 132–148; 1905), citing other people's work to avoid long explanations. Today, there is a whole citation industry that — among other things — affects the impact factors of scientific journals, which in turn provide a gauge for the quality of an institution's research output.
Publication in prestigious journals that have high impact factors encourages researchers to pursue trendy topics. It follows that investigators working in low-profile and under-researched fields are at a disadvantage because they publish in less well-known journals and generate fewer citations. This not only offends their institutions; in countries such as the Czech Republic it could fail to stimulate the flow of grant money.
The Swiss journal Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica has a good reputation among voice researchers but, with an impact factor of 0.655 in 2007, publication in it was unlikely to bring honour or grant money to the authors' institutions.
Now two investigators, one Dutch and one Czech, have taken on the system and fought back. They published a paper called 'Reaction of Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica on the current trend of impact factor measures' (H. K. Schutte and J. G. Švec Folia Phoniatr. Logo. 59, 281–285; 2007). This cited all the papers published in the journal in the previous two years. As 'impact factor' is defined as the number of citations to articles in a journal in the past two years, divided by the total number of papers published in that journal over the same period, their strategy dramatically increased Folia's impact factor this year to 1.439.
In the 'rehabilitation' category, shared with 26 other journals, Folia jumped from position 22 to position 13. Publication there will now no longer disappoint the Dutch author's colleagues for lowering their institution's score, and should encourage the Czech government to spend more money on the Czech author's university.
Could professional scientometrists one day be in demand, to guide young scientists up the citation ladder of scientific survival and allow them to do some good, modest science in their spare time, just for fun?
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Opatrný, T. Playing the system to give low-impact journal more clout. Nature 455, 167 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/455167b
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