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Questioning the Impact Factor (and new alternatives)

A December editorial in the Journal of Cell Biology questions the data behind the ISI Journal Citation Rankings (the impact factors published by ISI).

Show me the data

Published online 17 December 2007
The Journal of Cell Biology, Vol. 179, No. 6, 1091-1092
© The Rockefeller University Press, 0021-9525


The integrity of data, and transparency about their acquisition, are vital to science. The impact factor data that are gathered and sold by Thomson Scientific (formerly the Institute of Scientific Information, or ISI) have a strong influence on the scientific community, affecting decisions on where to publish, whom to promote or hire (1), the success of grant applications (2), and even salary bonuses (3). Yet, members of the community seem to have little understanding of how impact factors are determined, and, to our knowledge, no one has independently audited the underlying data to validate their reliability.

Related topic:

Declan Butler, Free journal-ranking tool enters citation market, Nature News, January 2, 2008. Excerpt:

A new [OA] Internet database lets users generate on-the-fly citation statistics of published research papers for free. The tool also calculates papers’ impact factors using a new algorithm similar to PageRank, the algorithm Google uses to rank web pages. The open-access database is collaborating with Elsevier, the giant Amsterdam-based science publisher, and its underlying data come from Scopus, a subscription abstracts database created by Elsevier in 2004.

The SCImago Journal & Country Rank database was launched in December by SCImago, a data-mining and visualization group at the universities of Granada, Extremadura, Carlos III and Alcalá de Henares, all in Spain….

The new rankings are welcomed by Carl Bergstrom of the University of Washington in Seattle, who works on a similar citation index, the Eigenfactor, using Thomson data. “It’s yet one more confirmation of the importance and timeliness of a new generation of journal ranking systems to take us beyond the impact factor,” says Bergstrom….

Thomson is also under fire from researchers who want greater transparency over how citation metrics are calculated and the data sets used. In a hard-hitting editorial published in Journal of Cell Biology in December, Mike Rossner, head of Rockefeller University Press, and colleagues say their analyses of databases supplied by Thomson yielded different values for metrics from those published by the company (M. Rossner et al . J. Cell Biol. 179, 1091–1092 ; 2007).

Moreover, Thomson, they claim, was unable to supply data to support its published impact factors. “Just as scientists would not accept the findings in a scientific paper without seeing the primary data,” states the editorial, “so should they not rely on Thomson Scientific’s impact factor, which is based on hidden data.”

Citation metrics produced by both academics and companies are often challenged, says Pringle. The editorial, he claims, “misunderstands much, and misstates several matters”, including the authors’ exchanges with Thomson on the affair. On 1 January, the company launched a web forum to formally respond to the editorial.

More Alternatives:
Eigenfactor.org: the Eigenfactor score is a measure of the journal’s total importance to the scientific community (includes citation ranking, journal price, disciplinary differences, etc.)
H-index: for the impact factor of individual scientists, rather than journals.


Jane: A Tool for Suggesting Journals and Finding Experts (and Facilitating Peer-Review)

Bioinformatics Advance Access published online on January 28, 2008
Bioinformatics, doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btn006

Martijn J. Schuemie and Jan A. Kors

Department of Medical Informatics, Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam, P.O. Box 2040, 3000 CA, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Summary: With an exponentially growing number of articles being published every year, scientists can use some help in determining which journal is most appropriate for publishing their results, and which other scientists can be called upon to review their work.

Jane (Journal/Author Name Estimator) is a freely available web-based application that, on the basis of a sample text (e.g., the title and abstract of a manuscript), can suggest journals and experts who have published similar articles.

Availability: http://biosemantics.org/jane.


University Presses Collaborate to Produce More Books

Five university presses have announced a collaboration that seeks to find a way to reduce costs of scholarly publishing and to allow more books to be released. The collaboration, created with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will set up a joint operation for copy editing, design, layout and typesetting for the work in American literatures. The presses will retain complete control over book selection and distribution.

The new system is expected to yield enough savings to allow each of the presses to increase output by five books a year, meaning that over the course of the five-year project, 125 books that might not have otherwise reached readers will be released.

The collaboration is being formally announced at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, which opened in Chicago Thursday. NYU Press will manage the grant, which will also involve Fordham University Press, Rutgers University Press, Temple University Press and the University of Virginia Press.

Read more:
Insider Higher Ed, Dec. 28, 2007


Decision to Disclose Information Can Enter Gray Area

Edward Lotterman, Decision to disclose information can enter gray area, TwinCities.com, October 24, 2007. Excerpt:

NASA made news this week when it was reported the agency had conducted a major study of aviation safety, interviewing over 20,000 pilots, and then sat on the data. An official defended that decision because the findings could damage the public’s confidence in airlines and affect airline profits, according to an Associated Press story.

Similarly, the Minnesota Department of Health recently sat on information about deaths of mining workers from mesothelioma. Then-Commissioner Dianne Mandernach said the delay in releasing the data was necessary while the department designed a research program to study them.

The question of what information should be available to whom – and when – is a knotty one. Information is valuable to an economy. More information generally lets people and businesses make better decisions. Markets function more efficiently when information is plentiful for buyers and sellers than when it is scarce.

However, personal privacy rights and legitimate needs of business confidentiality dictate that much government information be withheld from the public….

In both the NASA and state Health Department cases, an administrator decided that because the pubic might not interpret information correctly, it should not be released at all. This is patronizing to the public. Mining workers exposed to asbestos can make better decisions about their own health care if they know the full risk of their past exposure. The public can make better decisions about flying if they have more information about safety. If there are serious concerns about data being misleading, that can be addressed when the data are released.

Moreover, public disclosure of data allows others to analyze them. They can announce findings that confirm, refute or alter initial impressions created by the raw data. Open access to data that permits others to replicate research is a key aspect of modern science….


U of Michigan Press Keeps Link to Controversial Publisher

The University of Michigan Press has faced intense criticism in the last two months for distributing a book — on behalf of a British publisher whose sales the Michigan press handles in the United States — that is highly critical of Israel. And that controversy led to a review of the relationship with the British publisher. But on Wednesday, Michigan announced that it was keeping its ties to Pluto Press and would continue to distribute its books. The case has been closely watched by academic publishers and others concerned with academic freedom, especially on the sensitive topic of criticism of Israel.

The controversy focused attention on a role played by many university presses in the United States as the American distributors for small European publishers that don’t have worldwide sales networks. Similarly, many American presses work with foreign publishers to act as their distributors abroad. Under these deals, the distributing presses don’t review (or endorse) the works that have been published by another press. And that was a key factor in the way Michigan described its decision to maintain ties to Pluto — that the relationship was one of commerce, not scholarship.

“Distribution agreements are undertaken strictly as business relationships and have historically been a small part of the UM Press’s business,” said a statement announcing the unanimous decision of the press board to maintain its relations with Pluto. “Currently, the press distributes for five publishers. As is the case with all such commercial arrangements, books distributed on behalf of clients are not edited, reviewed, or produced by the UM Press, and they do not bear the imprimatur of the press or of the University of Michigan.”

….Pluto Press is an independent publisher in Britain that publishes many books by and for academics with a leftist perspective. The book that set off the furor is Overcoming Zionism, which argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake and urges adoption of the “one state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Israelis and Palestinians would form a new country, without a Jewish character. The book was written by Joel Kovel, distinguished professor of social studies at Bard College. While the book is not online, an interview with Kovel in the magazine Briarpatch gives a sense of both the depth and tenor of his criticism of Israel.

When pro-Israel groups found out that the Michigan press was distributing Overcoming Zionism, numerous blog postings and letters to Michigan administrators demanded that distribution be halted. Michigan briefly did so, but then resumed distribution, citing issues of academic freedom and First Amendment protections. But at that time, the university press said it would review its relationship with Pluto. The press said that it would not have published the book, and that fact raised questions about the tie to the publisher that did.

Read on: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/25/pluto

Insidehighered.com, Oct. 25, 2007


Scholarly Publishing Out of Step with the Academy

Publishing makes the academic world go round, but, despite a great range of opportunities to distribute academic work in the Web 2.0 world, a new report issued by Ithaka argues that universities are still not enabling or sufficiently supporting publishing opportunities at their institutions. A commitment to publishing “in its broadest sense,” the report argues, could not only enable universities to more realize the “potential global impact of their academic programs,” but even potentially reduce costs.

“In American colleges and universities, access to the Internet and World Wide Web is ubiquitous. Consequently, nearly all intellectual effort results in some form of ‘publishing,'” writes Ithaka president Kevin Guthrie in his preface. “Yet universities do not treat this function as an important, mission-centric endeavor. The result, he says, is a scholarly publishing industry many scholars see as “increasingly out of step with the important values of the academy.” Ithaka “is an independent not-for-profit organization with a mission to accelerate the productive uses of information technologies for the benefit of higher education worldwide.”

The paper was authored by Laura Brown, former president of Oxford University Press USA, with support from Ithaka’s Strategic Services group, along with Matthew Rascoff and Rebecca Griffiths, who did the research. Despite such extensive research, Guthrie notes, “this is not a report presenting findings from an objective, empirical survey of the field.” Rather, it is a “qualitative review,” informed by a combination of survey results, interviews, and the knowledge of the investigators.

With the advent of powerful information and communication technology, the report explains, “the responsibility for disseminating digital scholarship is migrating in two directions–towards large (primarily commercial) publishing platforms and towards informal channels operated by other entities on campus, mostly libraries, academic computing centers, academic departments, and cross-institutional research centers.” The latter offers new opportunities for universities to reduce costs and to claim a greater stake in the research they subsidize and produce. It also creates challenges for university presses.

One thing is certain: change. “Publishing in the future will look very different than it has looked in the past,” the authors note “The next stage will be the creation of new formats made possible by digital technologies, ultimately allowing scholars to work in deeply integrated electronic research and publishing environments that will enable real-time dissemination, collaboration, dynamically-updated content, and usage of new media.”. This means both a range of new methods of “content creation” as well as new commercial models and marketplace innovations for distribution, and also an expanded role for libraries in maintaining “alternative distribution models” such as institutional repositories, pre-print servers, and open access journals. “Different economic models will be appropriate for different types of content and different audiences. It seems critical to us that there continue to be a diverse marketplace for publishing a range of content.”

So, in the digital future, every university that produces research should have “a publishing strategy,” if not a press, the authors suggest. “Universities give up too much by withdrawing from publishing,” they argue. “There is a great need, as well as a great opportunity, to revitalize the university’s role and capabilities in publishing.”

Library Journal Academic Newswire, July 27, 2007

To read the complete Ithaka report go to: University Publishing In A Digital Age

Related Article: New Model for University Presses
From Inside Higher Education, July 31, 2007. Scott Jaschik, New Model for University Presses

It’s the nightmare-come-true scenario for many an academic: You spend years writing a book in your field, send it off to a university press with an interest in your topic, the outside reviewers praise the work, the editors like it too, but the press can’t afford to publish it. The book is declared too long or too narrow or too dependent on expensive illustrations or too something else. But the bottom line is that the relevant press, with a limited budget, can’t afford to release it, and turns you down, while saying that the book deserves to be published.

That’s the situation scholars find themselves in increasingly these days, and press editors freely admit that they routinely review submissions that deserve to be books, but that can’t be, for financial reasons. The underlying economic bind university presses find themselves in is attracting increasing attention, including last week’s much awaited report from Ithaka, “University Publishing in a Digital Age,” which called for universities to consider entirely new models.

One such new model is about to start operations: The Rice University Press, which was eliminated in 1996, was revived last year with the idea that it would publish online only, using low-cost print-on-demand….

Read the complete article: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/07/31/ricepress

The Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan has released the Ithaka Report in CommentPress which allows readers to share online, paragraph by paragraph annotation and commentary of the Report. CommentPress was recently developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book to allow readers to share annotations and commentary on texts. The hope is that all of us that have a stake in the outcomes of the Ithaka Report will share our thoughts and commentary in this new forum.


Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Scholarly Communication

The University of California Office of Scholarly Communications just released “Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Scholarly Communication: Survey Findings from the University Of California.” The report analyzes over 1,100 survey responses covering a range of scholarly communication issues from faculty in all disciplines and all tenure-track ranks. The report provides summary and detailed evidence of a UC community of scholars where:

* There is limited but significant use of alternative forms of scholarship, with 21% of faculty having published in open-access journals, and 14% having posted peer-reviewed articles in institutional repositories or disciplinary repositories. Such publishing is seen as supplementing rather than substituting for traditional forms of publication.

* Faculty appear unwilling to undertake activities, such as forcing changes on publishers, that might undermine the viability of the system or threaten their personal success as traditionally evaluated.

* Many respondents voiced concerns that new forms of scholarly communication, such as open access journals or repositories, might produce a flood of low-quality output. Faculty showed broad and strong loyalty to the current peer-review system as the primary means of ensuring the quality of published works now and in the future, regardless of form or venue.

* On matters of tenure and promotion Assistant Professors show consistently more skepticism about the ability of tenure and promotion processes to keep pace with or foster new forms of scholarly communication.

* The survey results overall suggest that senior faculty may actually be more open to innovation than younger faculty. Senior faculty are free from tenure concerns, and although many are still driven by a desire for promotion, they appear more willing to experiment, more willing to change behavior, and more willing to participate in new initiatives. Therefore, senior faculty may well serve as one starting point for fostering change. Furthermore, because senior faculty are both involved in making academic policy and serving as role models for junior faculty, their efforts at innovation are likely to have broader influence within their departments.


Flattening of the U.S. Output of Scientific Articles: 1988–2003

U.S. Output Flattens, and NSF Wonders Why
Jeffrey Mervis

Science 3 August 2007:
Vol. 317. no. 5838, p. 582
DOI: 10.1126/science.317.5838.582

A new study by the National Science Foundation (NSF) showing that the overall number of publications by U.S. scientists has remained flat for more than a decade calls to mind the opening words of a classic 1960s folk rock anthem: “There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

The study (nsf07320) reveals what NSF officials call an “unprecedented” and mysterious trend: Despite the continued expansion of the peer-reviewed literature, the total output of U.S. scientists stopped growing in the early 1990s and hasn’t budged since then. The pattern, which cuts across all disciplines, reverses decades of steady expansion and leaves NSF officials scratching their heads for an explanation.

“We don’t have a smoking gun,” says Rolf Lehming, who oversees NSF’s biennial compendium of leading scientific and engineering indicators and has been tracking the phenomenon since the late 1990s. The trend is especially surprising given the growth in funding, personnel, and other research inputs over the 1988-2003 period being analyzed, he notes. It also deviates from the pattern in the European Union and in emerging Asian nations, where the output has continued to grow. As a result, their scientists can claim a rising share of global publications.

Read the complete article: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/317/5838/582

Citation of NSF Report:
National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics. 2007. Changing U.S. Output of Scientific Articles: 1988–2003. NSF 07-320. Derek Hill, Alan I. Rapoport, Rolf F. Lehming, and Robert K. Bell. Arlington, VA.

Excerpt from the Executive Summary:
In an unexpected development in the early 1990s, the absolute number of science and engineering (S&E) articles published by U.S.-based authors in the world’s major peer-reviewed journals plateaued. This was a change from a rise in the number of publications over at least the two preceding decades. With some variation, this trend occurred across different categories of institutions, different institutional sectors, and different fields of research. It occurred despite continued increases in resource inputs, such as funds and personnel, that support research and development (R&D).

In other developed countries—a group of 15 members of the European Union (the EU-15) and Japan—the absolute number of articles continued to grow throughout most of the 1992–2003 period. During the mid- to late 1990s, the number of articles published by EU scientists surpassed those published by their U.S. counterparts, and the difference between Japanese and U.S. article output narrowed. Late in the period, growth in the number of articles produced in some of these developed countries showed signs of slowing.


Transitions: scholarly communications news for the UI community | May 2007

May 2007
Issue 2.07

Welcome to the May issue of Transitions.

The purpose of this irregular electronic newsletter is to bring to readers’ attention some of the many new projects and developments affecting the current system of scholarly communication, with emphasis on new products and programs, the open access movement and other alternative publishing models. Scholarly communication refers to the full range of formal and informal means by which scholars and researchers communicate, from email discussion lists to peer-reviewed publication. In general authors are seeking to document and share new discoveries with their colleagues, while readers–researchers, students, librarians and others–want access to all the literature relevant to their work.

While the system of scholarly communication exists for the benefit of the world’s research and educational community and the public at large, it faces a multitude of challenges and is undergoing rapid change brought on by technology. To help interested members of the UI community keep up on these challenges and changes we plan to put out 6-8 issues per year of this newsletter.

This newsletter aims to reflect the interests of its readers so please forward comments, suggestions and entries to include to karen-fischer@uiowa.edu. Also, read the health sciences counterpart to Transitions: Hardin Scholarly Communication News.

Table of Contents:

U of Iowa Participates in Permanent Electronic Journal Archiving Service

Journal Pricing Reports Released: Shows Steep Increasing Costs for Social Science Journals and Merging Publishers

Nature: Agencies Join Forces to Share Data

Self-Archiving and Journal Subscriptions: Co-existence or Competition?

2006 BioOne Progress Report Now Available

Open Access and the Progress of Science

Eigenfactor Web Site Goes Live

University Presses Try to Straddle the Battle Lines in Open-Access Debate

Institutional Repositories: Evaluating the Reasons for Non-use of Cornell University’s Installation of DSpace

Study Shows that Scientists are Still Leary of Publishing in Open Access Journals

BioMed Central Brings Open Access Publishing to Physics and Math


Eigenfactor Web Site Goes Live

The official version of the full Eigenfactor web site is now available online at http://www.eigenfactor.org/. Eigenfactor.org is a non-commercial academic research project sponsored by the Bergstrom lab in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington which aims to develop novel methods for evaluating the influence of scholarly periodicals and for mapping the structure of academic research. The Eigenfactor web site now covers all 7000+ journals in the 2004 Science and Social Science JCR, and also covers 110,000+ reference items cited by these journals but not listed in the JCR.

The web site also provides information on the value-per-dollar that journals provide. Users can click on any journal title, and see a popup with more information, including full information about price, publisher, and value provided, courtesy of Ted Bergstrom and Preston McAfee’s http://www.journalprices.com/.