Quality and trust over impact

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Nandita Quaderi

Clarivate's Journal Citation Reports continue to evolve, writes Nandita Quaderi

For nearly half a century, the global research community has relied on the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) as a trusted resource to confidently identify leading journals in their fields. Throughout that time, it has evolved continuously in response to changes in scholarly communication and technology. It has transitioned from print to digital, increasing the number of quality journals covered and by introducing new metrics, indicators and descriptive data. But most of all, the evolution of the JCR reflects a change in how we define journal ‘quality’.

The meaning of journal quality has evolved

The JCR was launched in 1975. This was the pre-digital age, when the rapidly growing number of journals created a sense of information overload. There was a need for an indicator of scholarly impact to help identify the ‘must-read’ journals — and thus, the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) was launched. 

In the 1970s, the scholarly community rarely had reason to question the quality of academic journals. The assumption was that all journals maintained a high standard, and issues of questionable publishing practices were not a widespread concern. The terms ‘high quality’ and ‘high impact’ were often used interchangeably i.e. the most highly cited journals were also broadly considered to be the best journals in terms of quality.

How times have changed! We now see industrial levels of fraudulent behavior and increasing pollution of the scholarly record, often facilitated by papermills that exploit the pressure to publish and be cited. 

As chasing publications and citations have now become goals in themselves, we can no longer assume that the “best” journals are the most highly cited journals. High quality can no longer be equated with high impact – instead quality should now be equated with trustworthiness.

Redefining journal quality

In recent years, we have introduced a series of policy changes that reflect our position that the most important differentiator between journals is whether the content they publish can be trusted, rather than whether they are highly cited.

This includes extending the JIF from the most impactful journals in the sciences and social sciences to all journals that have passed our rigorous quality criteria and are indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection.

In doing so, we have made the JIF a marker of quality, not just of scholarly impact. This emphasis on inclusivity and trustworthiness – instead of impact – helps level the global playing field and protects the integrity of the scholarly record. 

A snapshot of the 2024 JCR 

The 2024 JCR release encompasses more than 21,800 high-quality academic journals across more than 250 scientific and research disciplines. 

  • Scholarly journals from 113 countries, across 254 categories are recognized and receive a JIF. 

  • This includes 14,090 science journals, 7,321 social science journals and 3,304 arts & humanities journals.

  • 544 journals receive a Journal Impact Factor for the first time.

What’s changed this year? 

For the first time, the JCR includes unified JIF rankings for the 229 subject categories in the sciences and social sciences. For example, Psychiatry is a category in SCIE, SSCI and ESCI. In prior years, journals in this category were only ranked if they were in SSCI or SCIE, and the rankings were separate. This year, journals in SCIE, SSCI and ESCI are all part of a single ranking structure.

Typically, ESCI journals will have lower JIFs than SCIE, SSCI or AHCI journals in the same category. This is because entry into SCIE, SSCI and AHCI requires an additional step; a journal needs to pass our four impact criteria – designed to select journals with the highest scholarly impact – in addition to the 24 quality criteria that select for editorial rigor and best publishing practice. As a result of this stringent evaluation process, we currently accept less than 20% of all journals that apply to be included in the Web of Science.

However, we know there are some ESCI journals with a higher JIF than SCIE, SSCI or AHCI journals in the same category. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the differentiator between ESCI and SCIE/SSCI/AHCI isn’t just a journal’s JIF at a given moment in time – it is dependent on whether a journal passes our four impact criteria. 

Secondly, we have paused impact evaluations since 2022 to focus our efforts on quality evaluations of submitted and indexed journals. This means that we are not moving any journals from ESCI to SCIE or vice versa

This was an informed and deliberate decision designed to keep the Web of Science free of compromised content and supported by the fact that ESCI journals now also have a JIF and from today they will also be included in the new unified science and social science JIF category rankings alongside SCIE and SSCI journals.

By ranking ESCI journals alongside all other journals in the same subject category, we are sending another strong signal that all trustworthy journals – including newer journals and those with a niche or regional focus – should be valued and considered, regardless of how highly cited they are. 

Dr. Nandita Quaderi is Senior Vice President & Editor-in-Chief, Web of Science, Clarivate