The Impact Factor: time for change


  • Sidney Bloch,

  • Garry Walter

  • University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

  • Garry Walter, Director, Central Sydney Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Services, and Clinical Lecturer (Correspondence)

  • Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia. Address for correspondence: Rivendell Unit, Hospital Road, Concord West, New South Wales 2138, Australia. Email:

SidneyBloch, Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Adjunct Professor, Centre for the Study of Health and Society


Objective: The Impact Factor (IF) has received virtually no attention in the psychiat ric literature, despite its long-term use, expanding influence and evidence of misapplication. We examine the IF’s validity as a measure of a paper’s scientific worth, and consider alternative ways to conduct such an appraisal.

Method: We explored medical databases and websites, and conferred with acknowledged experts on the subject.

Results: Irremediable problems, both conceptual and technical, make the IF a flawed measure. The notion that citations vouch for the quality of an article is questionable. Moreover, the IF’s vulnerability to misuse in domains such as academic promotion and research grant assessment is a serious development.

Conclusion: The IF (and all measures derived from it) should be abandoned. A ‘return to basics’ in evaluating published work is overdue. As seductive as a simple formula is to assess quality, shortcuts are unavailable and unlikely to be useful. Publishing a short-list of papers annually, judged as objectively as possible by peers to merit special attention, may be a more meaningful option. Conceivably, every psychiatric journal could participate in this cyclical exercise, leading to a ‘grand short-list’. This could be made readily available to all professionals, both researchers and clinicians, by being posted on a suitable website. Since peer review has a long-standing role in scientific publishing, our proposal is essentially an extension of that process.