new citation impact rankings


As announced earlier on O&M, the ISI Web of Knowledge released their 2006 journal impact factors. As always, the impact rankings are not quite what you’d expect. It is rather surprising that Social Forces had such a low citation impact in 2006 where it ranks 14 among sociology journals. In 2005 Social Forces was at number 6. As Nicolai noted, Administrative Science Quarterly is now ranked number 5 among management journals (if you exclude information systems journals). That doesn’t seem that bad until you consider that ASQ has long been considered the top organizations journal.

I can’t decide what to make of these lists. Just as Kieran noted that reputation ~= quantifiable measures of baseball loser-ness, prestige rankings of journals probably differ significantly from their actual citation impact. Also, these lists change a lot depending on where you draw the lines. When discussing the top organizations journals, most of us would reasonably exclude the information systems journals, but I imagine that other lines could be drawn that would allow you to reshuffle the journal rankings according to your preferences. For example, in sociology Sociologia Ruralis is ranked number 5, but many of us would not consider this journal to be part of our reading milieu. Once you start excluding all of the specialty journals that don’t pertain to you, Social Forces suddenly looks like a much better journal (which I think it is, at least to the general sociology readership).

My sense is that a junior scholar is better off first trying to maximize the number of articles that he or she can get into the most prestigious journals, based on peers’ perceptions, rather than try the hit-and-miss strategy of aiming for those journals that have relatively higher impact factors. Prestige is sticky. Impact factors, whatever they measure, are much more slippery. Chances are, if your article is good and it ends up in a prestigious journal, it will get cited.


Written by brayden king

July 9, 2007 at 5:30 pm

Posted in academia, brayden, research

22 Responses

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  1. Interesting that it moves as much as it does. Here are the sociology journals:

    1. ARS.
    2. ASR.
    3. AJS.
    4. SMR.
    5. Soc Ruralis.
    6. Soc Networks.
    7. JMF. [No, not that one.]
    8. Soc Health Ill.
    9. Soc Probs.
    10. Econ & Soc.



    July 9, 2007 at 6:06 pm

  2. Interestingly, in Economics the AER ranks 14th.



    July 9, 2007 at 6:07 pm

  3. In social sciences, sociology in particular, impact factors don’t seem to play a major role. Acta Sociologica, for example, has an IF of 0.256, although it would be hard to find a renowned sociologist who didn’t publish there. In health sciences, on the other hand, IF is considered the most important criteria when thinking about where to send an article. And in most cases it really does reflect prestige and quality of the journal (e.g. NEJM and British Medical Journal).

    It just came to my mind that it would be very interesting to consider differences between medical (let’s take public health for instance) and sociological journals in terms of editorial policies, style preferences, research methods… Judging from my experiences, publishing in medical journal is an excellent way to learn about writing journal articles. In sociological journals there tends to be a decent amount of redundancy and extensive retelling and descriptions of the stuff that is already supposed to be common knowledge. It also often wonders into too much detail in debating other authors and approaches. So sometimes it is quite difficult to figure out what the author wants to say, and what the actual argument is. In medical journals you get only the substance. However, they usually take many things for granted – there is no space sufficiently to discuss methodology, present other views on the topic and provide detailed theoretical explanations of phenomena under study. In sum, what I wanted to say is that sociologist can learn a great deal from health scientists (e.g. social epidemiologists), at least as much, say, from economists.

    Any other views on this?



    July 9, 2007 at 6:47 pm

  4. In economics, some very prestigious journals have low impact factors. This is in large part because the pool of people that can read articles in Journal of Economic Theory and Econometrica is relatively small. Publishing in these top econ journals is necessary and probably sufficient for tenure at highly regarded (by economists) economic departments.


    David Hoopes

    July 9, 2007 at 7:22 pm

  5. Obviously, rankings are also going to depend on where the boundaries of the disciplines are drawn. For example, I’d guess that a lot more sociologists publish in and read Demography than many of the journals that ISI lists under Sociology. If Demography is added to the list of Soc journals, it would score 3rd in terms of impact factor, above AJS.

    I’m not terribly surprised by the Social Forces drop. Before her editorship ended at SF, Judith Blau published *a lot* of papers, many of dubious quality and impact. The size of each issue nearly doubled. Anectodal evidence also suggests that many top sociologists actively avoided submitting manuscripts to SF, whether because of its turn toward “public sociology,” its reputation for an unusually slow turnaround, or both. SF will rise at least part way back up the rankings, at least assuming the new editor is returning to the older SF model.



    July 9, 2007 at 8:05 pm

  6. SF will rise at least part way back up

    Not quite “The South Shall Rise Again” but I guess UNC will have to settle for it.



    July 9, 2007 at 8:08 pm

  7. It’s really too bad that perception of SF exists, because, at least in social movements research, a lot of really good papers came out during that era. As you’re saying though, the quality variance increased as well.



    July 9, 2007 at 8:11 pm

  8. The citation thing is touchy – unless the journal is the gold standard in the field, it’s position can fluctuate wildly. In my years since grad school, I’ve seen journals jump up and down quite a bit because of the popularity of different areas or home run articles. This is why reputation should be the guide for young scholars, not citation factor. Then, of course, we could always judge research on the words in the article and not the journal impact factor…


    Fabio Rojas

    July 9, 2007 at 9:50 pm

  9. “Then, of course, we could always judge research on the words in the article and not the journal impact factor…”

    That certainly is the last resort…:-) Btw, what are your impressions of non-US (e.g. European) sociological journals? Which ones do you read most often, and do you notice any generalizable differences between the major US and non-US journals?



    July 9, 2007 at 10:58 pm

  10. “My sense is that a junior scholar is better off first trying to maximize the number of articles that he or she can get into the most prestigious journals, based on peers’ perceptions, rather than try the hit-and-miss strategy of aiming for those journals that have relatively higher impact factors.”

    I think you are absolutely right, in this respect. However, I think impact factors are a better source of information depending on area. For highly discursive, qualitative fields (historical sociology, cultural sociology, economic sociology) impact factors are not useful, because a lot of the scholarly communication in these fields occurs through books and edited volumes not peer reviewed articles (see Clemens et al 1995). But if you are family sociologist, publishing in JMF might actually be a as good an idea as publishing in SF (Blau or no Blau [is that the question?]), ditto if you are a rural sociologist (which might actually be coalescing into a separate discipline as criminology did a while back) vis a vis sociologia ruralis (did they think that having a title in Latin was going to soften the stigma of not studying urban sophisticates?). In short, for quantitative, article-intensive subfields (social psychology, criminology, family, demography, medical soc, etc.) impact factors are important and are a useful source of information. For other fields…not so much.



    July 10, 2007 at 5:50 am

  11. valerio: speaking from my corner of the discipline (inequality), ESR is the most often read; BJS and Acta Sociologica less so, but are still relatively well known. However, I’d guess that far fewer American sociologists read European journals than the reverse.

    In terms of generalizable differences, my impression is that with the exception of ESR, the top European journals are more open to — or polluted by, depending on your tastes — postmodernism and its various cousins than the top US journals. Which could explain why elder statesmen like Goldthorpe are sending papers to AJS/ASR for the first time in their careers.



    July 10, 2007 at 5:59 am

  12. Valerio, I would add to what Kim just said (which is basically right I believe) by noting that ESR is the most “American” looking of the journals (the British Journal for the Sociology of Education is also very empirically oriented), while BJS, SR, and Sociology, have been bitten a little harder by the European theory bug. My sense however, is that that is beginning to change a bit, as Bourdieu begins to supplant Foucault as the theorist du jour, which means that some empirical research must now be reported in addition to the theoretical exegesis.

    One thing that continues to distinguish the British in comparison to American journals is the high proportion of qualitative research (in particular ethnographic observation and interviews) in comparison to the analysis of expensive large scale data sets with cutting edge econometric techniques (other than Breen, Goldthorpe and the Oxford strat dudes and students, there are very few people that command the relevant skills) typical of American journals (this is evident in comparing Organization and ASQ for instance). Another bizarre thing: while European journals have a lot of theory related to “networks” you would be hard pressed to find an actual network analysis in any of them; this might be related to the previous point concerning the paucity of large scale data collection beyond observation/interviews.



    July 10, 2007 at 1:57 pm

  13. In org. studies, I think there is a lot more cross-continental influence. This is partly due to EGOS (European Group for Organizational Studies), which has a fine journal in Organization Studies. While the European org. crowd has its fair share of postmodernism, the practical nature of teaching business skills creates a bridge between the Americans and the Europeans. See, for instance, the July issue of Org. Studies, which addresses a very American theory (institutional theory) but mostly with the tools of European scholarship.



    July 10, 2007 at 3:42 pm

  14. See Jeremy’s post on this today. Jeremy: your headline only makes sense if you call “Annual Review of Sociology” a “journal” and draw no distinction between “specialty journals” and “generalist journals.”

    Jeremy: Please bring back anonymous commenting! Some of us like to take part in the conversation w/o having whatever comes into our heads preserved forever on the internets. Pretty please!



    July 11, 2007 at 6:36 pm

  15. Another point to note about the sociology list is how many specialty journals sociologists publish in that do not appear in the sociology list because they are categorized elsewhere by ISI. Demography, Social Psychology Quarterly, ASQ, Ethnic and Racial Studies are some examples. Demography’s impact factor is high enough to make it the #3 sociology journal–higher than AJS. Are the impact factors comparable across different subject categories?
    Some part of the sociology list seem strange enough that it would seem to make sense to take some kind of moving average. My non-scientific impression is that many of the higher quality specialty journals (Demography is a good example) have tended to publish articles better than those in Social Forces in recent years.



    July 11, 2007 at 9:28 pm

  16. Anyone consider how journal selection might be a factor here?

    Say, for example, that a good quality specialty journal like Mobilization is excluded (which it is). Might this skew the ImpFac results away from those journals that publish all of my favorite social movements research?



    July 11, 2007 at 11:36 pm

  17. Surprising indeed that some journals, such as Mobilization (or, I also noted: Managerial & Decision Economics) are not included – to Jeff’s point above, anyone know why (I am sure the reason could be uncovered on ISI with enough digging)?



    July 12, 2007 at 2:04 am

  18. Mobilization is not in the ISI JCR because you have to be kicking around for quite a while before they take you seriously enough. My experience is that they are somewhat capricious with the application of the selection criteria We are in the process now, and it should be rated in the next edition.

    I’d note more generally, that the impact factors are calculated in a way that makes them pretty unstable. If you average them over 3 or 4 years, they get a lot more stable and in fact, reflect pretty well my impression of journal prestige. But a single year of data on any particular journal really isn’t very reliable at all, so I wouldn’t make much of that.

    Looking back over a few years, SF is still the third highest rated general journal, but I also don’t think it is really in the same league, either in terms of prestige or impact factor, or any other kind of rating, as AJS and ASR. Still it’s a good outlet, although probably less differentiable from Social Problems and more so from ASR and AJS than it used to be.


    Dan Myers

    July 16, 2007 at 6:51 pm

  19. […] Brayden on the meaning of journal citation patterns. […]


  20. […] not even reproducible by third parties (we’ve covered some of this ground before; here, here, and here), and all the rest, but I still wonder whether this signals some permanent substantive […]


  21. Dear all

    I am quite surprised that no impact has been given to two leading jounals:

    1. Managerial and Decisions Economics, which is one of the most influential journal of management (just look at the Editorial board)

    2. Review of International Economics, a very good and rich journal on International Economics which is largely thought as one of the best recent entry in the field




    Gianpaolo Rossini

    June 7, 2011 at 10:06 am

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