EMBO reports asks “Is the end in cite?”

In a Correspondence to EMBO reports ( 10, 1186; 2009), Mark Patterson asks how we can avoid Howy Jacobs’s “light-hearted nightmare scenario” of the future of citation-based metrics. Patterson, director of publishing at the Public Library of Science (PLoS), presents his own organization’s article-level metrics, as a better alternative to the journal-level metrics that are currently in most common use as research output measures. He writes: “Article-level data are not without their problems, and so it is important to interpret the data carefully. But, we believe that providing the data in the first place will inspire new ideas about how to assess research. Rather than limiting attention to the journal impact factor, it will be possible to ask sophisticated questions about the impact and influence of published research, and to obtain meaningful answers. For example, for a piece of research that is aimed at practitioners, we might want to know the extent to which it has actually changed practice—citation metrics probably would not be of much help in that case. And it should be possible to find work that only emerges with the passage of time as crucial for the development of a particular field.” Noting that the PLoS journals no longer promote impact factors at their website, Patterson concludes: “As alternatives begin to emerge, the primacy of the impact factor will be challenged. But this will only happen if other stakeholders also take a stand.”


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