Author : Vincent Traag
Articles in high-impact journals are by definition more highly cited on average. But are they cited more often because the articles are somehow “better”? Or are they cited more often simply because they appeared in a high-impact journal? Although some evidence suggests the latter the causal relationship is not clear.
We here compare citations of published journal articles to citations of their preprint versions to uncover the causal mechanism. We build on an earlier model to infer the causal effect of journals on citations. We find evidence for both effects.
We show that high-impact journals seem to select articles that tend to attract more citations. At the same time, we find that high-impact journals augment the citation rate of published articles.
Our results yield a deeper understanding of the role of journals in the research system. The use of journal metrics in research evaluation has been increasingly criticised in recent years and article-level citations are sometimes suggested as an alternative.
Our results show that removing impact factors from evaluation does not negate the influence of journals. This insight has important implications for changing practices of research evaluation.