Asking Janus: impact factor or real impact for the community?

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First, let me congratulate our journal for receiving our first, impressive impact factor. Impact factors of cytogenetic journals are historically low, therefore, our good impact factor is welcoming news. The same congratulations go to all authors, reviewers and editorial members for your hard work and jobs well done.

Now, with the impact factor in hand, I started to wonder, should we further improve it? And how? At first glance, you might say, “What a dumb question! We just simply need to publish more citable papers and to achieve a higher impact factor.” However, as co-editor in chief, and serving on a number of other editorial boards, I know the answer is more complicated than that, and thus I am willing to share our concern (on behalf of Thomas and Yuri) about this issue with authors/readers.

Currently, there is a heated debate regarding journal impact factors including their potential negative influence on science, the unfairness to smaller and more specific journals, the pre-selection without peer review, etc. I am not going to jump on the bandwagon here and discuss these issues as too much has already been said by others. Rather, I will ask how to deal with it. In reality, like it or not, impact factors are here to stay (at least for now). The cytogenetic/cytogenomic research community must face that our journals often have lower impact factors compared to more popular journals supported by bigger research communities.

The issue has been discussed between us Editors-in-Chief prior to receiving our impact factor. During this discussion, the question was raised, “How should we further improve our journal? By more strictly selecting publications (i.e. publish only works that will be well cited) to increase our impact factor, or continue serving to the cytogenetics/cytogenomics research community by providing a publication platform for most solid publications, regardless of their potential citation?” Appealingly, more selection would increase the impact factor, but would it do a service for our research community? For example, publishing case reports is necessary for the community, but they might not necessary be highly cited. In general, some ’popular’ or ’hot’ subjects might have more citations (due to the number of researchers involved), but less popular subjects are also essential. Since the launch of Molecular Cytogenetics, our policy has been to serve the community first. However, if we cannot improve our impact factor by rejecting more papers, will the impact factor become a key issue for future authors and readers?

When I was a post-doc under Dr. Peter Moens, our lab also hosted the editorial office of Chromosoma and Genome, two influential journals that Peter was in charge of. I clearly remembered Peter’s passion of using journals to serve the research community rather than just focusing on the impact factors. “You never know which paper will be highly cited most of time,” Peter told me. This echoes with the viewpoint of Dr. T.C. Hsu, the father of modern cytogenetics. Once Dr. Hsu told me, among the many papers he published, some of which he considered as his best work, did not have many citations. By contrast, papers that he felt that were less important received many more citations. Based on wisdom of Peter and TC, as well as my own experience, I tend to avoid pre-selecting articles in attempt to increase the impact factor. On the other hand, times have changed, and we are now in an internet era. Today, there are so many online journals that actively compete for good-quality manuscripts. Perhaps a good impact factor can become a key element in swinging authors to choose home journals for their best work? Thus, I ask you the authors and readers, do we need to improve the impact factor by raising the bar of publication?

Clearly, balancing the “impact factor” and impact for the research community is a challenge for editors as well as all the members of the research community. I look forward to your input.

By Henry Heng

Co-Editor-in-Chief, Molecular Cytogenetics

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