I had a promotional e-mail from the scientific publishing giant Elsevier the other day. The latest calculated impact factors for journals have been released, so it's time, naturally, for them to brag about how things are going.
The message goes on, in large type, about "Consistently Increasing Impact Factors!". I guess that it's nice to know, for example, that Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters has moved up from 2.333 to 2.478. Hey, at that rate, they'll be over 3.0 by the 2010s! O, brave new world that has such journals in it! Imagine being able to unload your failed med-chem projects in a journal with such an impressive impact factor - I'd encourage you to start making plans on how you'll spend the bonus and promotion money.
Even by these (debased) standards, some of the hype seems a bit. . .forced. Bioorganic Chemistry, for example, is touted as moving up from 1.240 to 1.565 (translation: unimpressive to unimpressive, even if you believe in impac factors). Those numbers make me think that I still have several years of lead time before I'm strongly motivated to look at the journal.
But my favorite blurb is this one: "Heterocycles: WAS 1.064. NOW 1.070". Well, all right, then, spread the news! The impact factor for Heterocycles has moved up in the third decimal place! What, did three more people cite papers from it in 2005? Look, Elsevier knows the truth as well as anyone else: Heterocycles is just not a good journal. But then, it never has been. Back in the 1970s and 80s, it came directly from Japan on expensive glossy paper stock, which along with the sleek black cover made a distinctly weird impression on those infrequent occasions when you actually looked inside a copy. The paper completely outclassed that stuff that was printed on it. Most of the articles could have been titled "Not Particularly Surprising Rearrangements of Bicyclic Imidazo Compounds That No One Cares About". I have seen no evidence that makes me think that the situation has improved.
Actually, my favorite part of the e-mail is what it doesn't mention. You know, when you think about it, Elsevier publishes some other chemistry journals, too. . .where, for instance, is Tetrahedron Letters? You don't suppose they'd miss an opportunity to highlight that one, do you, assuming that there was anything to highlight?