Attending the 2006 World Federation of Occupational Therapists Congress, which was held in Australia in July, was a stimulating and inspiring experience. In excess of 2,300 occupational therapists came together from around the world to share their knowledge of, and passion for, occupational therapy. OT Australia did a marvellous job of organising the event which was held in the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre on Darling Harbour.
In our respective roles as editor of the Journal of Occupational Science and the New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, we were invited to attend an editors meeting. We were in esteemed company, sitting alongside representatives from both the British and Canadian Associations, and editors of the WFOT Bulletin, Occupational Therapy International, Work, the Philippine Journal of Occupational Therapy, the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal and several others. The main topic for discussion was the way in which systems that rank professional journals might influence the content of occupational therapy journals, and what we, as editors, might do about concerns over those systems.
The ranking systems generate 'impact factors'. These factors are intended to indicate the impact a specific journal may have on knowledge development. It is a concern that only two occupational therapy journals have an impact factor. This issue has relevance for NZJOT readers, hence our decision to outline what is at stake and our thoughts about options for the future.
To explain the issues further, impact factors rank journals in relation to each other. This judgement is made from the perspective of things that matter to scientists; and how often articles are cited by other authors within a two year period. Various organisations calculate impact factors, but the most influential appears to be the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI), which publishes journal rankings on its website (www.isinet.com). The ISI is a privately owned organisation, which accepts very few new journals onto its database. Its calculations are based on the number of times articles from a particular journal are cited in other journals held in the ISI database within two years of publication. This number is then divided by the total number of articles published in the journal over the same period (Fricke, 2006). ISI impact factors range from 20 or so to less than one. Generally an impact factor of less than 1.5 is considered fairly poor.
All this may seem irrelevant to the world of occupational therapists, except that universities around the world are increasingly looking to the impact of academics' publications to inform decisions about employment, tenure and promotion. That is, academics who have not published in high impact journals suffer personal consequences. The outcome is that occupational therapy literature is increasingly being diverted to non-occupational therapy journals. In an ideal world, this might be cause for celebration. Have we not all complained that other health professions do not understand what occupational therapists do? What better to way to spread the word than infiltrating their literature? The problem is that academics, like all of us, have limits on their time and efforts. Submitting their theories, research, critique and reflections to professional journals with higher impact factors means they frequently do not also publish in the occupational therapy literature. As a result, they may not directly address the concerns or development of occupational therapy practice. …