The mass rejection of research papers by selective journals in a bid to achieve a high impact factor is an enormous waste of academics’ time, advocates of open access publishing have argued.
One analysis found that there is almost no correlation between a journal’s impact factor – a controversial measure of the number of citations a title receives that can end up influencing hiring and firing decisions on individual academics – and the proportion of papers it rejects.
Pascal Rocha da Silva, a process strategy manager at Frontiers, an open access publisher, plotted the impact factors of 570 journals against their rejection rates, only to find that there was “absolutely no correlation” between the two.
Some journals that rejected more than nine out of 10 papers had impact factors well below average, while others that accepted the majority of submissions had some of the best scores.
“One of the strongest beliefs in scholarly publishing is that journals seeking a high impact factor should be highly selective, accepting only papers predicted to become highly significant and novel, and hence likely to attract a large number of citations,” he wrote.
“Most of the 20,000 or so journals in the scholarly publishing world follow their example,” Mr Rocha da Silva wrote. However, “there is absolutely no correlation between rejection rates and impact factor”, he concluded in a commentary.
A small cluster of journals with the very highest impact factors were found to have rejection rates of more than 90 per cent. However, a “vast number of high quality papers are being sacrificed to engineer high impact factors, yet the strategy fails for the vast majority of journals”, he argued.
Frontiers finds that a rejection rate of up to 30 per cent is justifiable, to “ensure only sound research is published”, Mr Rocha da Silva wrote.
His analysis was taken further by Jon Tennant, the communications director of ScienceOpen, another open access platform. “Importantly for researchers, there appears to be a range of journals with impact factors between 5 and 10 (i.e., moderate) that have extremely low rejection rates,” he wrote.
“You might as well shoot for a journal which is 10 times more likely to accept your work [as] a highly selective one with an equal impact factor,” Mr Tennant wrote on his blog.
The fact that academics still submit their papers to journals with high impact factors could be due to a “lack of awareness in some cases”, he told Times Higher Education.
He said it was “infuriating” how much time was wasted submitting papers only for them to be rejected.
However, his analysis of the data found that for more selective journals with rejection rates of over 60 per cent, more rejections did weakly correlate with a better impact factor.
In addition to the ongoing debate about how journals achieve a good impact factor, the measure itself has come in for increasing criticism in recent years.
In 2013, organisations including the Wellcome Trust and the Higher Education Funding Council for England signed up to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which calls for journal impact factors to be scrapped as a basis for funding, appointment and promotion decisions.
Last year, a paper in Research Policy argued that trickery by journal editors to boost their impact factor meant that the measure had lost “most of its credibility”.