Our use of impact factors is backwards

Academics incorrectly use impact factor (IF) to judge the quality and impact of an article.

The only factor to judge the quality of an article is the article itself, and that is subjective.

The only way to measure its impact is its citations (in peer-reviewed journals or elsewhere, like popular media).

If an article published in a low impact factor (IF)  journal has 100 citations, and one in a high IF journal has 100 citations, the first should be more appreciated, since it does not benefit from the spillovers of the journal reputation. It is overcoming a disadvantage.

Thus a high citation article in a low IF factor journal is likely better than one in a high IF journal (if citations are an indicator of quality, and citations are increased with spillover effects — which people must believe otherwise why try to publish in high IF journals). Impact Factor should only be used to discount article citations, not as a positive metric in tenure and promotion.

I have heard all the reasons. IF is an indicator if the author publishing in the “right places”. It’s harder to get published in a high IF journal (likely true, but not as true as you think). There aren’t enough citations by the time a tenure decision has to be made, so this is a surrogate.


Read the actual papers. If you won’t read the papers (and/or don’t know enough to ascertain originality), trust their colleagues. At any rate, if it’s not in your area, why is the system structured to give you a vote on their academic merit? Judge their teaching, or their collegiality, but not their output.