Freedom from the IF: Impact Neutral Publishing

I came across a post from Jan Jensen a few months ago about a GRC meeting that he had attended. What caught my eye however, was his comment on “impact neutral” publishing. Specifically, he mentions

For me “impact neutrality” has become just as important as OA. It is so very liberating to just write down what I did and what I found rather than trying to put everything in the best possible light with elaborately constructed “technically-correct-but-not-really-telling-the-whole-story” paragraphs.

As a methods person myself, this resonated with me, and while not always feasible, I hope to be able to make some progress towards this form of publishing in the coming year.

So what does this mean? Essentially, you publish your work in the journal with the best fit, irrespective of impact factor (IF) or other measures of journal importance. By bypassing importance metrics it allows one to consider other, more relevant parameters such as topical fit and accessibility. Why is this approach useful? First, IF measures impact of a journal, and as a result, all work in a high IF venue is not necessarily impactful and conversely, work in low IF venue is not necessarily non-impactful. Second, an impact neutral publication can be a more honest description of what was done, since there’s less need to put a spin to justify impact. Third, it can avoid time spent in the journal funnel.

Importantly, impact neutral publication doesn’t imply poorly written or run-of-the-mill papers. A story still needs to be told in a clear and succinct fashion. In the end, publication is about letting people know what you did. As opposed to impressing people by what you did.

So, there are definitely benefits to this view of publishing. Is it for everybody? Ideally yes, but in todays climate, it doesn’t always work out. Indeed, this thread highlights the issues with asking people to ignore IF. It works well if judgement is not important/irrelevant (tenured faculty). In addition, there are groups such as government labs, for whom IMO impact should not be a factor, that could follow this publication policy. Of course, it is also true that much work is done by groups and within such a setting, different members will have different needs and agendas. So arbitrarily forcing impact neutral publication is not always feasible.

What are the downsides to this approach to publishing? For early career researchers and people hunting for money (aka grants), it is obvious – hiring and funding committees, unfortunately, do look at impact factors in many cases. While some people are pushing for changes, we’re not there yet. Having said that, what is the effect on the work itself that is published in this form? The primary effect is that it goes unnoticed or ignored or considered poor quality due to venue. In addition, such work may not benefit from popular press. Both these outcomes are unfair, but given the information overload of todays world, not unexpected.

So how does one address these drawbacks? There are two levels to this – at the individual level, the use of Twitter, blogs and other social media can help spread the word of your work. As you might expect this approach publicizes the work within your topical community. To break out of this sphere requires “network effects” and is non-trivial to achieve. However, the scientific community should also address this by way of cultural changes. Given that different fields have different cultures and policies, it’s unreasonable to expect every scientist to accept or even attempt these changes. But when certain fields are open to change and have people championing this (and other) approaches to publications, I believe that the community (which in reality are the senior scientists sitting on committees and holding the reigns) should keep an open mind and seriously consider the benefits to impact neutral publications.

One thought on “Freedom from the IF: Impact Neutral Publishing

  1. Great discussion of the pros and cons. Just remember: it is not an all or nothing approach. Just try it once, see how you like it, and go from there. One paper at a time.

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