Back to basics: The roll of journal indexes

I wonder about the contribution of journal indexes / databases to the assessment of research quality.

Lately, and against what would be logical given the major changes being experienced by the publishing industry, professors are increasingly required to publish in journals indexed in Journal Citation Reports (JCR), both statewide for accreditation as at universities, especially in private ones.


If indexes and impact indicators were a kind of accreditation on the quality of journals’ processes, particularly on peer review quality and editorial board, I would understand all this alarm about publishing in first class reputable indexes. But apparently not:

  • Being in JCR, journals have to demonstrate to be a regular publication, printed in English, have an international editorial board and other requirements that have little to do with the quality of the papers within.
  • Having a journal indexed in Scopus and other known ones, it is enough to filling out a form giving them permission to use the journal data.
  • Following the same line, other similar indexes (generalists, regional or specialists), only require an application form to be filled.

So, what are the main sources of prestige for a journal? I pointed just a few:

  • Large base of readers.
  • Quality of authors and papers.
  • Sound peer reviewer processes, with good reviewers and feedback.
  • Good Editorial board and clear editorial line, objectives, etc.

If that is somehow true, then, what makes the difference with un-indexed peer review journals? I have not it very clear, it looks like a kind of complex corporate governance system for journals: different publishing stakeholders (indexes, journals, professors, researchers, universities, departments, accreditation bodies, governments, readers, peer reviewers, editors, journal owners, etc.) taking care of research prestige and reputation.

Many voices in academia call for a change, but, is there a better system than journal indexes and impact indicators to assess quality of research?

POLL: The future of research quality assessment

The main drivers of change regarding the assessment of research quality and its dissemination are the current Web 3.0. technology environment in education, open access journals/repositories and the consolidation of citation metrics tools.

Indexed journals have been adding high value to all academic stakeholders: professor, researchers, publishers, editors, professionals, universities, faculties and libraries; but has arrived the time for journals to change?

journal burning

Shape the future of publishing voting in the poll. Share with us your vision.

Tomorrow belongs to cites

openaccess Over the last decades, journal rankings moved from something only a few librarians cared about to something that is now critical to the future of professors and researchers. The same thing could happen to the individual citation metrics.

  • Internet and open access movement is urging academia to reconsider the current model of research assessment, journal rankings and each of the phases of the publishing process, such as the private citation system, the growing role of repositories, the subscription and payment model , and even the peer review and impact indicators.
  • Assessment of quality of research activity is needed, either of the journal, or research activity of department or individual, no one doubts it, the problem is what type; the ideal would be all of them. Some countries do this, they rate individual academics by levels, for example in UK (REF), Australia (EIA) or Spain (ANECA), having into account many more things, such as teaching assignments, research centers or stays in international universities.
  • We have now journal rankings, but it will probably have less relevance in the future with open access, though it could be more necessary in the short term due to the initial confusion with the evaluation of research quality. If the move is to individual cites, and its calculations are improved, for example with a bias corrector by field of knowledge and years of experience, why the need of journal rankings and impact factors?, one could go directly to estimate individual cites and see the quality and prestige of the researcher, are there anything more real and tangible than cites?

This brings me again to the old question ever, publish/cited or perished? That is, the pressure to profs. I wonder if the same assessments could be made to other professionals, such as judges, politicians or even bankers. Don’t you think so?

Journals indexing: A Space Odyssey?

2001 Space Odyssey 1083_RS7_009543.jpgIn the world, it could be around 100.000 journals listed in different academic databases and citation indexes, such as Web of Knowledge (Reuters), Scopus (Elsevier), EBSCOhost (EBSCO Publishing), DOAJ (Sparc) and hundreds more. Fortunately there is a lot of supply, the problem is how to choose.

The rule of thumb is that you always have to publish in indexed journals (there are generalists, regionals or specialists in a scientific field), open accessed or not.

  • If you don’t do it this way, you may lose your time and your research. Forget newspapers, business magazines or even books (at least as first option), which are fine to spread your work or reach consulting clients, but here we are talking about scientific output, for your academic curriculum. Do not mix them.

Neither confuse citation indexes or databases (which demand specific quality requirements to academic journals) with web search engines (or digital libraries), like Google Scholar, or CiteSeerX, which are part of the open access movement that is changing the publishing industry, and that we will have to take into account, but in the future.

As a general outline, scholars have to identify their 3/5 most relevant indexes where to publish: the two most prestigious generalists, the one focused on your research field, and the relevant index in your country or region.

  • Later we’ll see which journals we send our articles to, according to the journals impact factor (based on citations received by the papers published) and the quality of our research and experience.

For example, since my specialty is finance and risks, my indexes priorities are WoK, Scopus, Econlit/EBSCOhost (Economics)) and Latindex (Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal), in that order. And depending on the quality of my scientific production, I place them mentally.

  • Note that it is often easier and faster to publish in journals of lower order indexes (less known or prestigious) than of higher order, for various reasons that can be easily imagined.
  • The ideal is always publish in WoK indexed journals, but to be realistic, it’s more than enough publish one paper every year in each type of index, totaling 2/3 per year. But it depends on the capacity and ambition of each of us, and on the time required for the other academic activities: publish is not everything.

And you? Do you know “your indexes”?, Start the New Year by identifying the 3 or 4 most relevant databases in your field of expertise and region: ask your faculty/university library, review the journal indexes of your current research references, or even better, share this post with your peers, and then have a drink with them to see what they think about!

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