The Journal Impact Factor Does It Devalue Applied Research in Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance? What Really Makes One Journal More Effective Than Another?

Article excerpt

One of the hallmarks of the academic discipline of health, physical education, recreation, and dance is its long tradition of production of applicable research. Our discipline has produced and disseminated both basic and applied research in dozens of peer-reviewed journals, as well as presented the findings of research to practitioners in a variety of settings, including national, regional, and state meetings where practitioners and researchers interact.

While basic and applied research both have undeniable value, applied research, particularly concerning pedagogical methods that may have immediate benefits to practitioners, is of great importance to progress in our discipline, as well as in the broader field of education. Research that identifies a new and effective method of teaching physical education has immediate impact. Similarly, with research that aims to improve the health of people, studies that provide immediate application lead directly to that goal. However, what science often judges to be of high quality in research does not always generate an immediate social impact. Savage (2001) provides an excellent example of the problem:

  In an ideal world all research would be of high quality and have
  considerable social impact by improving health. But in the real world
  scientific quality and social impact do not always go together.
  Quality to scientists tends to mean originality of subject, thought,
  and method. Much research that scientists judge of high quality has no
  measurable impact on health--often because the lag between the
  research and any impact may be decades. Thus scientists would think
  of the original work on apoptosis (programmed cell death) as high
  quality, but 30 years after it was discovered there has been no
  measurable impact on health. In contrast, research that is unlikely
  to be judged as high quality by scientists--say, on the cost
  effectiveness of different incontinence pads--may have
  immediate and important social benefits. (p.528)

Current trends in the requirements and priorities among university faculty, as often directed by administrators, may be increasing the distance between collegiate scholars and practitioners in our discipline, as well as in other disciplines. One of the more troubling trends in research is the reliance on the journal impact factor (IF) to establish a perceived "value" or importance of scholarly publications. While the academy has long been a "publish or perish" environment, it is rapidly becoming "publish in a high-impact journal or perish" (Monastersky, 2005). Given that the IF of different scholarly journals may vary greatly, this phenomenon not only influences which journals receive submissions, but is beginning to influence the type of research that scholars will undertake, promotion and tenure decisions, and even the success of grant applications (Rossner, Van Epps, & Hill, 2008). Clearly, this is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Thomson Reuters Scientific (formerly the Institute for Scientific Information--ISI) is a database publishing company that publishes the Science Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index, Arts and Humanities Citation Index, and the Journal Citation Reports related to citations in scholarly periodicals (Hecht, Hecht, & Sandberg, 1998). The brainchild of Eugene Garfield in 1955, the founder of ISI, the concept of the impact factor was likely inspired by those used for legal literature since the late 1870s. Garfield's idea was to develop a method to identify the most important journals, not to utilize the IF as an evaluation tool for faculty. The IF is the ratio of the articles cited to the articles published during a two-year rolling window. In simple terms, an impact factor of 2.0 for a journal means that the average recent article in the journal has been mentioned in 2.0 other recent articles (Cameron, 2005).

As the power of the IF has grown, so has the criticism of its use. …