Friday, October 14, 2005

Are Journal Impact Factors being Misused ?

An intersting article by Richard Monastersky entitled "The Number That's Devouring Science" was published in the October 14th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. The article discusses how the journal impact factor, once a simple way to rank scientific journals, has become an unyielding yardstick for hiring, tenure, and grants. The problem, it seems, is that the impact factor was developed select the most important journals for a new citation index, and not as an article level evaluation tool.

The ISI Citation Index has become one of the most widely used citation tools in science and the social sciences and was conceived in 1955 and developed in the 1960s, primarily by Eugene Garfield. The concept was developed to help them select the most important journals for a new citation index they were working on. It didn't make sense for them to include only the journals that get the most citations because that would tend to eliminate smaller publications. He came up with the "impact factor," a grading system for journals, that could help him pick out the most important publications from the ranks of lesser titles. The imapct factor reflects the average number of citations per article for each journal.

Each year, the number by which science journals live and die is computed from a simple formula. To calculate the impact factor for journal X, Thomson ISI examines the 7,500 journals in its index to find the number of citations to X in the previous two years. That number becomes the numerator. The denominator is the number of original research articles and reviews published by X in the previous two years.

Impact factors caught on since they are an objective measure that serves many purposes. Librarians use them to decide which journals to purchase or cancel. Editors and publishers can gauge their progress relative to their competitors. Scientists can examine the numbers to see where their research papers are more likely to get the most attention.

However, the measurement is an average of all the papers in a journal over a year; it doesn't apply to any single paper, let alone to any author. According to Monastersky, a quarter of the articles in Nature in 2004 drew 89 percent of the citations to that journal, so a vast majority of the articles received far fewer than the average of 32 citations reflected in the most recent impact factor. Mr. Garfield and ISI routinely point out the problems of using impact factors for individual papers or people. According to the article Jim Pringle, vice president for development at Thomson Scientific which oversees ISI, responded that "It is a fallacy to think you can say anything about the citation pattern of an article from the citation pattern of a journal."

The pressure to publish in the highest impact journals in order to be successful in the tenure process and grant competitions has led researchers to compete more and more for the limited number of slots in those journals. Impact factors may also affect the kind of research is conducted. Top journals require that papers be topical so researchers may shift the kinds of questions they investigate to accommodate those high-impact journals. The question has become if impact ranking have begun to control scientists, rather than the other way around.

Monastersky also detailed that in 1997 the Journal of Applied Ecology cited its own one-year-old articles 30 times. By 2004 that number had grown to 91 citations, a 200-percent increase. Similar types of citations of the journal in other publications had increased by only 41 percent.

Steve Ormerod, executive editor from 2000 through 2004, wrote several editorials during his tenure that cited his own journal dozens of times. In 2002, for example, two of his commentaries cited 103 papers published in the journal during 2000 and 2001. Those two editorials alone raised his journal's 2002 impact factor by 20 percent. The self-citations at his publication had a measurable effect since the journal's impact factor jumped from 1.3 in 1997 to 3.3 in 2004, and its ranking within the discipline rose from 29th out of 86 journals to 16th out of 107.

For More Information

Garfield E. Citation indexes to science: a new dimension in documentation through association of ideas. Science. 1955;122:108–111.

Garfield E, Sher IH. Genetics Citation Index. Philadelphia, Pa: Institute for Scientific Information; July 1963.

Garfield, E. The Obliteration Phenomenon in Science -- and the Advantage of Being Obliterated!. Essays of an Information Scientist; 2(396-398). 1975.

Garfield E. Which medical journals have the greatest impact? Ann Intern Med. 1986;105:313–320 Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 10, 2005

Jaume: The Robot "Librarian"

Jaume is the name for a "librarian" robot is being developed by the Robotic Intelligence Lab of Universitat Jaume I (UJI) in Castellón (Spain) by a research group managed by Prof. Angel P. del Pobil.

According to the project web site, the goal for Jaume is to search and retrieve a book requested by a customer. The operation starts when the user requests a book by its name or code, either through Internet or by voice. The robot is then in charge of locating the book in an ordinary library, extract it and take it to the user. The only initial information is the book code, written on a label which is read by the vision system. This general application integrates several inter-disciplinary skills like path planning, visual perception or multisensory-based grasping, all linked together by reasoning capabilities.

The robot consists of several systems including a camera that helps with the naviagation and book recognition systems. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) systems are used to read the labels in order identify the materials. A mechanical arm is then uyse to extract the book from the shelf.

Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) are not new. The systems were first introduced in the early 1960s and since there have been thosands of different types developed. The Prior Health Sciences Library and The Ohio State Univeristy where I work actually was home to one of Sperry Rand Corpration's five "Randreivers." It was a mechanical book storage system that required looking up a call number, giving it to a reference clerk who, in turn, matched it with an accession number (an undifferentiated string of 10 or 12 numeric characters), which, in turn, was entered via keyboard to retrieve the desired object.

By 1989 all American systems of them were out of service as the result of problems with suppliers (rand abandon the system), unanticipated maintenance costs, crude equipment and primitive computer control, and ignorance of customer requirements.

Among the deficiencies of this system was the need for people
to enter such numbers without error. Something like 30% of the failures
to retrieve had simply to do with this human-hostile resource identifier
being mistyped. The use of scanners alone would have reduced this number of errors, but scanner technology took off after the systems went offline primarly due to mechanical issues.

The question is if which research projects like Jaume will turn into practical library technologies and which ones will land up as the next Randtrievers.

For More Information

John Kountz, "Automated Storage and Retrival (AS/R) Systems of the Past: Why Did They Fail?" Library Hi Tech 31, no. 3 (1990): 87.

Barbara VanBrimmer, Elizabeth Sawyers, and Eric Jayjohn, "The Randtriever: Its Use at the Ohio State University," Library Hi Tech 8, no.3 (1990): 71.

Loo, Jeffery. ASRS
(Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems)in Academic Libraries

Prats M., Ramos-Garijo R., Sanz P.J., del Pobil A.P. Autonomous Localization and Extraction of Books in a Library. Intelligent Autonomous Systems, edited by F. Groen et al., Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2004.(pp. 1138-1145)

Prats M., Ramos-Garijo R., Sanz PJ, Del Pobil A. P. Recent Progress in the UJI Librarian Robot. In Proc. of IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man & Cybernetics, 2004. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 03, 2005

ICML9: 9th International Congress on Medical Librarianship

Every five years, the world’s medical librarians gather together to discuss our profession, to hear and see the latest developments, and to exchange news and ideas. The 9th International Congress on Medical Librarianship was held September 20-23 2005 in the city of Salvador, state of Bahia, Brazil. The theme for the program was "Commitment to Equity" I presented a paper on a research project entitled docMD: document Mediated Delivery.

The conference was set in a very scenic area of the country. The people were friendly and the atmosphere was very laid back. During our 12 day stay in Brazil we were struck that we did not encounter one rude person. This included the airports! People that did not speak English, and there plenty of them, generally worked with us and we were able to get by, although some of our food orders we not quite as expected. Negotating sales from market vendors was also a challenge since reading Portuguese and hearing it are quite different. Spanish speaking people were generally able to follow Portuguese, but even they commented that Brazilians spoke fast for them.

Many attendees, however, commented that the conference planners were overzealous in their efforts to protect attendees. For example, at one night time event we were escorted in groups by police from our buses through the old town area to the event site. We were only allowed to leave in large groups, again with police escort. Perhaps they were simply trying to protect us from the various street vendors that were very agressive in their marketing approach.

Attendees became fearful that the city was very dangerous. Like any larger city (Salvador has a population of 2.5 million) there are certainly issues with personal safety. Many Brasilians I talked to afterwards indicated the use of escorts was extreme. While I appreciate the planners concern, this approach set the tone for both the city and the meeting. Some attendees did not want to venture outside their hotels accept in large groups.

The conference itself was plagued with logisitical issues, from the lack of translation services to transportation. Many of the issues may have resulted from the fact that most of the conference planning fell on the shoulders of one very overworked individual and her staff. I give her all the credit in the world for pulling the conference off.

About 3/4 of the paper presented were in Portuguese or Spanish. With no translation services available I was unable to understand what was being discussed almost all of the time. At the same time, 3/4 of the attendees were unable to understand what I said. While this may be typical of internation conferences, it was frustrating, especially after all the time and energy it took to get to the conference. Sphere: Related Content