Metrics are intrinsically reductive and, as such, can be dangerous. Relying on them as a yardstick of performance, rather than as a pointer to underlying achievements and challenges, usually leads to pathological behaviour. The journal impact factor is just such a metric.
See, for example, citation rings.
During a talk just over a decade ago, its co-creator, Eugene Garfield, compared his invention to nuclear energy. “I expected it to be used constructively while recognizing that in the wrong hands it might be abused,” he said. “It did not occur to me that ‘impact’ would one day become so controversial.”More.
It’s worth recalling that a key early reason for journal impact factors was to resolve competing claims about which publications a publicly funded institution working within a budget should pay for.
Nature seems determined to take a stand in confronting abuses of the peer review system, and good for Nature! The public is beginning to cotton on that there is a problem, now that so much nutrition science – heavily marketed in popular sources – has turned out to be baseless.
People who don’t understand dark matter or dark energy may know they’ve been had about salt or butter.
It’s all very well to critique the public for being “anti-science” but then the science must meet a high enough standard for reasonable trust.
See also: Peer review unscientific? Tough words from Nature
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