Based on my experience and analyses of citation frequencies of papers published in various biological journals, I discuss the use of citation counts and journal Impact Factors as measures of scientific quality. I conclude that citation frequency differs not only among biological sub-disciplines such as ecology and taxonomy, but also among taxonomic papers on highly similar topics, and that these latter differences largely depend on the organismal group (cryptogams vs. vascular plants and species-rich vs small genera and families) and the geographic region concerned. As a result, journals with a broad biological scope face difficulties in competing in terms of Impact Factors, and thus in competing for the best manuscripts, with journals specialized on particular sub-disciplines that attract many citations. However, since papers on “hot” topics also tend to be short-lived, these differences, at least in part, would be much reduced if citations were counted for longer periods of time or were compensated based on the average age of cited papers in the particular field. In particular in taxonomy, factors such as originality and innovativeness, generally regarded as measures of scientific quality, appear to be inversely correlated with citation frequency. I, therefore, conclude that scientific editors would be able to significantly increase the Impact Factors of taxonomic journals, not by choosing for publication the most scientifically valuable and supreme articles, but by picking manuscripts based the taxonomic position and geographic distribution of the organisms concerned. Still, the author sincerely hopes that no editor will ever take such measures!
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Biological Sciences