Millions of academic studies are published each year. Some fundamentally alter the course of history, while others never even get cited. Those curious about the effect of specific researchers, papers, or journals often turn to a metric called “impact factor.” This metric counts the number of citations accrued by a researcher or research paper, or the average number of citations for studies in a specific journal. It’s a sensible and simple method for measuring influence.
According to a new “study,” it’s also an exercise in racism and sexism.
The paper, “A new tool for evaluating health equity in academic journals; the Diversity Factor,” published in PLOS Global Public Health, correctly points out that impact factor is an imperfect measure of cultural and scientific reach. Among the problems: researchers game the stats through self-citation, and journal-impact factors are skewed by studies that pick up extremely high numbers of citations. Still, impact factor represents a reasonably good proxy of the thing it purports to measure. While sensible researchers know not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, activists instead see imperfection as opportunity. Enter: the “diversity factor.”
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