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Distributional differences of the impact factor in the sciences versus the social sciences: An analysis of the probabilistic structure of the 2005 journal citation reports



This paper examines the probability structure of the 2005 Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) Journal Citation Reports (JCR) by analyzing the Impact Factor distributions of their journals. The distribution of the SCI journals corresponded with a distribution generally modeled by the negative binomial distribution, whereas the SSCI distribution fit the Poisson distribution modeling random, rare events. Both Impact Factor distributions were positively skewed—the SCI much more so than the SSCI—indicating excess variance. One of the causes of this excess variance was that the journals highest in the Impact Factor in both JCRs tended to class in subject categories well funded by the National Institutes of Health. The main reason for the SCI Impact Factor distribution being more skewed than the SSCI one was that review journals defining disciplinary paradigms play a much more important role in the sciences than in the social sciences.