As universities and research institutes adapt to pressure from governments and grant agencies to increase open access to research findings, it has become clear that new methods of publishing require new ways of looking at scientific output. In particular, as new open access journals are established, they face the challenge of considerably lower impact factors compared to legacy journals in their respective fields.
While the long-term potential for open access journals to achieve higher impact factors by attracting and publishing valuable science cannot be denied, researchers choosing a target journal for their research today must still struggle with the perceived superiority of journals with higher impact factors. In light of this, Utrecht University in the Netherlands has established a new vision on recognition and rewards which shifts the focus away from impact factor when evaluating applicants and promoting staff within the university.
Many individual researchers have expressed dissatisfaction with the focus on impact factor when universities make hiring or tenure decisions. However, Utrecht University’s decision emphasizes that this difficulty is not simply one faced by individual researchers, but by the entire academic community. Only when institutions themselves stop focusing on impact factor can individual researchers themselves make decisions that are not motivated by impact factor.
As impact factor has become widely used by both publishers and researchers, it will likely be a difficult metric to completely abandon. Furthermore, it may be a challenge for researchers and institutions to quickly adjust should the focus be rapidly pulled away from impact factor. However, as institutions like Utrecht University highlight the need to evaluate the way impact factor has become used, they will help to usher in a new generation of scientists who evaluate the contributions of their colleagues in a more holistic way.
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