3. High Impact Journals and Open Access Uptake

There are various journal ranking metrics (Eigenfactor, SJR, SNIP, etc.) to measure or describe the importance of a particular journal to its field.  The Impact Factor, as devised by Thomas Reuters in the 60s, is one of these metrics.  It is a measure of the frequency with which the average article (not individual articles) published in a given scholarly journal (indexed by Thomas Reuters) has been cited in a particular year or period.  Journals with higher impact factors are deemed to be more important than those with lower ones, and this measurement is widely used in scholarly circles in the evaluation of an academic journal's reputation and quality, even if the journal is not an Open Access publication.  

However, the process of journal ranking is not a perfect one as it generally does not reflect the citation counts of an individual paper but the citation counts of an average article in the journal.  It works towards promoting the reputation of the journal rather than the paper.  In a report published back in 2004, the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee recognised this and urged the Higher Education Funding Council for England to remind Research Assessment Exercise panels to change their attitude:

The perception that the RAE rewards publication in journals with high impact factors is affecting decisions made by authors about where to publish.  We urge HEFCE to remind RAE panels that they are obliged to assess the quality of the content of individual articles, not the reputation of the journal in which they are published. [Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report 2004, Section 9 - Integrity of the publishing process, paragraph 210]

The report states that journal impact factors taken as an indication of the quality of the articles in those journals cause a bias amongst UK authors towards journals with higher impact factors.  This in turn increases the journal's impact factor still further, which in turn supports a hierarchy of journals, making it difficult for new Open Access journals to compete.

This was nearly a decade ago.  Today there are many reputable Open Access publishers and platforms that researchers can choose from, and individual article citations are gaining weight as opposed to journal ranking.  In addition to this, it is anticipated that the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2020, which assesses the quality of research done in UK higher education institutions, will require all research outputs to be Open Access compliant.  Therefore, researchers need to have more confidence in their research output and start investigating alternative publications that offer Open Access to their papers if their preferred journal is not Open Access compliant.  There is support for this movement and evidence that the paper counts, not the journal.  Read about the studies carried out in the next chapters.