Friday, July 13, 2007

Challenging ISI Thomson Scientific's Journal Citation Reports: Deconstructing "Objective", "Impact", and "Global"

Presenter: Isagani Cruz, De La Salle University
Time: 2:55 PM - Thursday July 12, 2007
Location: SFU Harbour Center - Sauder Industries Policy Room
Links: Abstract
presenter's website
full-text of paper (pdf)

A very convincing case was presented challenging the Thomson Scientific ISI journal citation report and index. The Thomson Scientific citation report calculates the number of current year citations to the source items published in that journal during the previous 2 years to produce what is commonly know as the ‘Impact factor’ of a particular journal. This index has affected scientists immensely, as a way of assigning value to their work, contributing to faculty evaluation, institutional prestige and funding agency decisions. The presenter, Isagani Cruz, a writer, critic, and Professor Emeritus of De La Salle University-Manila, examined several of the terms stated in the basic tenants of the Journal Citation Reports (OBJECTIVE, IMPACT, and GLOBAL). In the presenter’s opinion, ISI is far from representing these 3 elements.

Speaking from his own professional area of literary studies, Professor Cruz takes a critical look at the study of literary texts and illustrated the following:

Since literary texts themselves are the basis for theories and the majority of criticisms are based only on European language texts, the appreciation and evaluation of non-European language texts have been largely ignored. It was emphasized that in non-European countries, researchers study work in multiple other languages in addition to European texts. With the acknowledgement that there are over a hundred languages and thousands of dialects in the global community, it was suggested that developing literary theories based only upon literary texts from European language texts was fundamentally flawed. With the understanding that scientific literature needs to be properly documented, the current practice of excluding non-European texts from the ISI as an industry standard needs critical reformation.

Deconstructing ISI:
- the myth of quality control that ISI claims to do
- highly unlikely that a non-european journal will be cited in a european journal due to language-barriers
- therefore, journals in non-european language are not cited, but this is simply a reflection of the language barrier, not the fact that the science itself is not valuable.
- current practice has marginalized the contribution of non-European researchers
- production of knowledge cannot be limited to language/country divides

Based on these observations, the ISI system is simply a point of view but is not objective nor is its evaluation global. Is the current process one which perpetuates ignorance rather than knowledge, as scientists are working independantly and often uninformed of one another’s research?

We need to be aware of hegemony in the current system. The existing formula of research evaluation and documentation needs to be dropped. Now that the web has democratized the publication process, with movement away from censorship imposed by editors and selected referees, ISI should continue to monitor journal publications but NOT evaluate journals. Merely listing
journals in the original spirit of Bradford would be most effective. The ability of tracing 1 citation from 1 journal to another, without an evaluation of which is better, would advance the building of intellectual resources to its full capacity in the global community. In essence, there would be documentation of not only the first 2 pages of search results, but all 2 million citations.
With all research receiving its due attention, the responsibility then lies on the individual to make a critical evaluation of the research in question.


In summary, the underlying themes of this presentation speak to the importance of opening communication between researchers. The use of letters to report data lies in the origins of the spirit of experimental science. This shared data can then be challenged and corrected, leading to the advancement of learning. Contributions from non-European regions of the world have been greatly restricted primarly due to language differences. It is of utmost importance that the communication and advancement of knowledge extend beyond geographical and linguistic boundaries.

1 comment:

LC said...

This is a well developed presentation of flaws in the 'impact factor' practice. The fact that european papers are cited more due to the language barrier shows the power structure and bias apparent in literature read today. It is particularly apparent in North America where English is the standard and often only language used. The 'impact factor' also skews values putting the measurement of value on one and only one type of evaluation. It is not a wholistic or multi-dimensional standard and imposes likeness on everything. Reviews or critics are far more valuable in evaluating the contribution of an authors work.

In different fields, for example Education and the Fraser Institute, institutions or businesses have developed a strangle holds on professions by developing a single, mechanistic method of evaluating the contribution of the profession they 'grade' and building themselves up as the 'authority' on criticing that profession. The value of the critic can become lost in the mechanistic rating which losses its meaning and context. For journals the 'impact factor' will likely remain a powerful measure of status and at least its has renewed value in fueling the drive for open access of scholarly material to increase the potential of citations. Good may come of it yet.