Journal metrics, with titles such as Journal Impact Factor, Immediacy Index, Eigenfactor Score and Article Influence Score, can seem fairly puzzling. This is particularly the case when they are often presented as a single number without any other context or definition. It has also been well documented, both by Nature Research and others, that they are often taken out of context or used to assess something for which they are not intended, notably individual researcher performance.
Last year we updated our approach to metrics, with a new Nature Research Journal Metrics page hosting a broader suite of citation-based metrics, including the two-year median for our journals, for Nature Research journals. We provided definitions of each metric to help the reader understand what the metrics really meant, and to provide context on how our journals were performing.
Understanding and responding to the needs of researchers and partnering with the research community to drive policies and standards is central to our mission at Nature Research. With this in mind, our next step, in the second half of 2016, was to carry out a survey of Nature Research and Springer Nature journal authors to help us to better understand researchers’ attitudes toward metrics and how important they are to authors when they chose where to submit their work.
Almost 1000 (985) Nature Research authors – and over 2,500 from Springer Nature overall – who had published a research article during 2015-16 gave us their views, with the largest groups of respondents from the US (15%), Europe (47%) and Asia and the Middle East (19%).
The survey showed that there is a demand for publishers to provide more information about their journals: 85% of authors asked said that information on journals’ is important for them when deciding where to submit their work, but 48% do not think that publishers provide enough. For junior researchers with less publishing experience, this information is particularly important.
The survey also revealed that authors were deeply interested in quantitative and qualitative details about the journal peer review process and that considerations of journal choice were influenced by these measures and others including their interactions with the journal editors, an understanding of the journal readership, and the overall reputation of the journal and publisher. Although the survey did affirm that Impact Factor remains a key metric for researchers, despite their knowledge of its limitations, alternate metrics all rated as important to journal choice as IF.
When it came to Impact factor, we found that despite researchers’ general awareness of its limitations, it remains a key metric for them when considering where to publish their work. Other citation-based metrics like Eigenfactor, h-index, RCR while appreciated amongst the metrics cognoscenti remain much less accessible for researchers. We also asked a group of 225 librarians how useful they found metrics, and along with examples such as Impact Factor, h-index and Eigenfactor, we also included a fabricated metric. 22% of respondents said they were familiar with the added metric, suggesting that there is a lack of knowledge of metrics, but that individuals are aware that they should know them.
Harnessing the survey results
Following the survey, we concluded that we needed to do more work to provide the peer review information about our journals that researchers care most about, and also to provide more accessible information about what the different metrics mean.
This is particularly important to us as our team of over 300 professional editors are single-mindedly dedicated to providing robust peer review to the highest standards of publishing ethics and research integrity whilst striving to deliver this in the tightest possible timeframe.
We have now updated the Nature Research Journal Metrics page to provide information on the following metrics:
- Submission to first editorial decision: Median time (in days) taken from complete submission of a paper to receipt of a first editorial decision about whether the paper was sent out for formal review or not.
- Submission to first post-review decision: Median time (in days) taken from submission of a paper to receipt of the first post-review decision
- Submission to Accept: Median time (in days) taken from the published submission date to final editorial acceptance
Data on Acceptance to Publication times will be provided in the next few weeks.
Noting the community’s lack of familiarity with the different metrics we’ve also created a new infographic with short, simple explanations of each of the metrics we now offer, which we’ve released under a CCBY so that anyone, anywhere, can use it.
As a result of this journey which began last year with the refashioning of the Nature Research Journal Metrics page, Nature Research is today becoming a signatory to the principles outlined in the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, commonly known as DORA. Nature Research has long been philosophically aligned with the principles described in DORA, particularly the need to move away from the inappropriate use of the Journal Impact Factor. A collection of relevant editorials are available on our metrics page. For our latest comment on this, please do read our latest Nature editorial.
From 1 May we’ll be running a two week Twitter campaign to increase awareness of journal metrics with the hashtag #MetricOfTheDay.
Philip Campbell, Editor-in-Chief, Nature and Nature Research
Sowmya Swaminathan, Head of Editorial Policy, Nature Research