Authors : Erin C. McKiernan, Lesley A. Schimanski, Carol Muñoz Nieves, Lisa Matthias, Meredith T. Niles, Juan Pablo Alperin
The Journal Impact Factor (JIF) was originally designed to aid libraries in deciding which journals to index and purchase for their collections. Over the past few decades, however, it has become a relied upon metric used to evaluate research articles based on journal rank. Surveyed faculty often report feeling pressure to publish in journals with high JIFs and mention reliance on the JIF as one problem with current academic evaluation systems.
While faculty reports are useful, information is lacking on how often and in what ways the JIF is currently used for review, promotion, and tenure (RPT). We therefore collected and analyzed RPT documents from a representative sample of 129 universities from the United States and Canada and 381 of their academic units.
We found that 40% of doctoral, research-intensive (R-type) institutions and 18% of master’s, or comprehensive (M-type) institutions explicitly mentioned the JIF, or closely related terms, in their RPT documents.
Undergraduate, or baccalaureate (B-type) institutions did not mention it at all. A detailed reading of these documents suggests that institutions may also be using a variety of terms to indirectly refer to the JIF.
Our qualitative analysis shows that 87% of the institutions that mentioned the JIF supported the metric’s use in at least one of their RPT documents, while 13% of institutions expressed caution about the JIF’s use in evaluations.
None of the RPT documents we analyzed heavily criticized the JIF or prohibited its use in evaluations. Of the institutions that mentioned the JIF, 63% associated it with quality, 40% with impact, importance, or significance, and 20% with prestige, reputation, or status.
In sum, our results show that the use of the JIF is encouraged in RPT evaluations, especially at research-intensive universities, and indicates there is work to be done to improve evaluation processes to avoid the potential misuse of metrics like the JIF.