Authors : Ludo Waltman, Vincent A. Traag
Most scientometricians reject the use of the journal impact factor for assessing individual articles and their authors. The well-known San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment also strongly objects against this way of using the impact factor.
Arguments against the use of the impact factor at the level of individual articles are often based on statistical considerations. The skewness of journal citation distributions typically plays a central role in these arguments.
We present a theoretical analysis of statistical arguments against the use of the impact factor at the level of individual articles. Our analysis shows that these arguments do not support the conclusion that the impact factor should not be used for assessing individual articles.
In fact, our computer simulations demonstrate the possibility that the impact factor is a more accurate indicator of the value of an article than the number of citations the article has received.
It is important to critically discuss the dominant role of the impact factor in research evaluations, but the discussion should not be based on misplaced statistical arguments. Instead, the primary focus should be on the socio-technical implications of the use of the impact factor.