About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Drugs and Money and How It Feels | Main | Vytorin, Holed Under the Waterline »

January 11, 2008

They Can Be Ranked - Somehow

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I really should call attention to this blast against journal impact factors from the folks at Rockefeller University Press. They have a number of complaints, among them that the folks at Thomson who put the numbers together are inconsistent about what gets counted as a citable article and what gets tossed aside as “front matter” (editorials, news updates, etc.)

They went so far as to purchase the Thompson data to check the impact factors for their own journals, but despite several attempts, they could never get anything that matched up with the official figures. The explanations they received for this problem were of gradually decreasing credibility.

” When we requested the database used to calculate the published impact factors (i.e., including the erroneous records), Thomson Scientific sent us a second database. But these data still did not match the published impact factor data. This database appeared to have been assembled in an ad hoc manner to create a facsimile of the published data that might appease us. It did not.

It became clear that Thomson Scientific could not or (for some as yet unexplained reason) would not sell us the data used to calculate their published impact factor. If an author is unable to produce original data to verify a figure in one of our papers, we revoke the acceptance of the paper. We hope this account will convince some scientists and funding organizations to revoke their acceptance of impact factors as an accurate representation of the quality—or impact—of a paper published in a given journal.”

There’s now some competition for journal ratings, at any rate. You can search this list for free – they have their own system for ranking journals, which I don’t completely understand, but the order of the chemistry titles is not obviously crazy. It’s hard to keep the review journals from dominating any such list, and that’s what they do here. Accounts of Chemical Research, for example, usually come out pretty high, although its actual let’s-see-what’s-in-there readership is probably not too impressive.

What fascinates me, though, are the lower reaches. I have a grim curiosity about the least impactful titles, the unciteable compost bins whose pages never flip. Sorting things out that way, you find journals in which, it's safe to say, every single author wishes that their paper could have gone somewhere else. In this better-than-nothing league (an arguable assertion, in many cases) you find what you expect to find: Egyptian Journal of Chemistry, the evocatively abbreviated J. Chem. Soc. Pak. andBull. Chem. Soc. Ethiop., among others. You may have seen these things come up in particularly diligent online searches.

But have you ever seen anything from Chemical Papers? There's an exciting name for you - that one's from Slovakia. Or Oxidation Communications? Did you even know that a journal with that title existed? (It's Bulgarian). Journal of Natural Gas Chemistry? Chemical Journal on Internet, from Switzerland, of all places? Maybe I don't get around enough.

Another thing you learn is that some journals you've heard of are not doing very well. It seems safe to say, for example, that the Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry is not working out so far, since it's face-down in the mud at number 468 out of 470 titles. The Journal of Structural Chemistry could apparently vanish from the earth without many people noticing, as could Chemistry of Natural Compounds, and there's a whole list of Russian and Chinese journals that publish large numbers of manuscripts to very little effect.

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. SP on January 11, 2008 10:09 AM writes...

What are the papers like in those lower journals? Are the papers things that are big claims with no reasonable data, or is it well supported research for completely useless topics ("Reverse phase purification of my belly button lint")? As you might imagine, not many people have access to those journals, so who knows what's in them.

Permalink to Comment

2. Al on January 11, 2008 10:29 AM writes...

Thing is, one of those non-descript journals that nobody reads and that few have access to could torpedo your patent.

Permalink to Comment

3. TNC on January 11, 2008 10:48 AM writes...

I've read a paper or two in the Beilstein JOC. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality, but this author could have easily (and has) published similar work in JACS. I suspect this was a favor to the editors.

It's a great idea, but I believe publishing in a new journal with an experimental format is a "collective action" problem, where no one wants to be alone in submissions.

Permalink to Comment

4. SNP on January 11, 2008 11:39 AM writes...

I really should call attention to this blast against journal impact factors from the folks at Rockefeller University Press.

Incidentally, Thompson has provided a detailed rebuttal to the complaint against them.

Permalink to Comment

5. A Nonie Mouse on January 11, 2008 12:51 PM writes...

I like the notion of using the median rather than the mean. Using the mean, when you know that the data is heavily skewed, seems incredibly misleading.

As for the very low impact journals, my own experience has been that most of the manuscripts are pretty useless. However, you occasionally run into a really creative idea that the author couldn't quite figure out how to implement very well. These are the real hidden gems of these journals.

Permalink to Comment

6. Anonymous on January 11, 2008 4:05 PM writes...

"There’s now some competition for journal ratings, at any rate. "

where is this other list of impact factors?

Permalink to Comment

7. Sili on January 11, 2008 5:40 PM writes...

One of our ... errr ... older, more curmudgeonly faculty used to refer to those journals as "The Himalayan Goatherding Herald".

I have a sneaking suspicion he knew from experience ...

Permalink to Comment

8. SP on January 11, 2008 6:54 PM writes...

5- a really creative idea that the author couldn't quite figure out how to implement very well

I've got several of those, where do I send the manuscript?

Permalink to Comment

9. shane on January 13, 2008 11:44 PM writes...

Impact factors are just another example of substituting quantity (of reviews that can be processed by an academic or bean counter) over quality (actually understanding what someones research is about). Is this an inevitable consequence of progress as fields become more complex and specialised or a sign that some kind of intellectual rot has set in?

Permalink to Comment

10. milkshake on January 14, 2008 1:37 AM writes...

all these small east-european journals were struggling in ommunist times but occasionally they got some tolerable submission as the researchers were discouraged to publish in West (and some of them had problems with English too). It was always understood that you were sending there an unremarkable stuff that was not worth sending to Tet Lett.

Meanwhile people from groups in Egypt, Iran and Pakistan discovered that crappy East European journas still have slightly better impact factor so they send their stuff there.

I thinbk nowadays there is no justification for a 5 million-sized nation to have its own national chemistry journal.

Permalink to Comment

11. Clark Kent on January 14, 2008 10:19 AM writes...


Thanks for the link to the rebuttal. TSR basically says they tried to explain their methodology, but these authors were too stupid to understand it.

Permalink to Comment

12. ppp on January 16, 2008 11:54 AM writes...

For 6. Anonymous

Here is another list of impact factors:

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry