In case you may be wondering, the second word in today’s title should not be “Curious”! In fact, Cureus is the name of a scientific journal and in February last year we featured one of their articles on the benefit of breast self-examination (BSE) in detecting cancer. In my inbox yesterday was an e-mail from Cureus that stated: “We’re thrilled to announce a significant accomplishment! The recent release of Clarivate’s Journal Citation Report revealed that the Cureus Journal of Medical Science has been awarded its very first Impact Factor (IF) – an impressive achievement that we’re proud to share with you.”
The Cureus team then went on to report that their two-year IF for 2022 stood at 1.2, placing them in the mid-ranking for general medical journals, “a commendable achievement for a journal that prides itself on inclusivity and accessibility.” This of course begs the question: How is the IF measured and is a value of 1.2 newsworthy? It was almost ten years ago, on 9 August 2013, that I published a blog in which the history of citations and journal impact factors was discussed.
It was Eugene Garfield (seen left), with a landmark paper published in Science in 1955, who had a simple idea: “A research publication was judged to be of influence if it was cited by authors of papers in scholarly journals, and the greater the number of citations, the greater the importance.” He defined the impact factor as a measure of the frequency with which the “average article” in a journal had been cited during a two-year period.
So, an IF of 1.2 for Cureus means that their articles, on average, have been cited slightly more than once. By comparison, journals that publish breast cancer imaging articles include, at the top end, The Lancet (168.9) and The New England Journal of Medicine (158.5), while lower down are European Radiology (5.9), Clinical Imaging (2.1), and the Journal of Breast Imaging (1.5). Clarivate, the company that publishes the IF values, acknowledges there are many factors that influence citation rates, and the IF should be used to “complement expert opinion and informed peer review.”
Interestingly, Clarivate goes one step further, advising: “In the case of academic evaluation for tenure and promotion, it is inappropriate to use a journal-level metric as a proxy measure for individual researchers, institutions, or articles.” Despite this sage advice, my own institution, the University of Cape Town, continues to use IF values in its promotion decisions, as does our country’s National Research Foundation when awarding an academic rating to an individual researcher. This is, undoubtedly, a curious affair!