The weakening relationship between the impact factor and papers' citations in the digital age
Article [Accepted Manuscript]
Is part ofJournal of the American society for information science and technology ; vol. 63, no. 11, pp. 2140-2145.
Historically, papers have been physically bound to the journal in which they were published but in the electronic age papers are available individually, no longer tied to their respective journals. Hence, papers now can be read and cited based on their own merits, independently of the journal’s physical availability, reputation, or Impact Factor. We compare the strength of the relationship between journals’ Impact Factors and the actual citations received by their respective papers from 1902 to 2009. Throughout most of the 20th century, papers’ citation rates were increasingly linked to their respective journals’ Impact Factors. However, since 1990, the advent of the digital age, the strength of the relation between Impact Factors and paper citations has been decreasing. This decrease began sooner in physics, a field that was quicker to make the transition into the electronic domain. Furthermore, since 1990, the proportion of highly cited papers coming from highly cited journals has been decreasing, and accordingly, the proportion of highly cited papers not coming from highly cited journals has also been increasing. Should this pattern continue, it might bring an end to the use of the Impact Factor as a way to evaluate the quality of journals, papers and researchers.