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Issues in Science and Technology
Librarianship |
Summer 2000 |
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DOI:10.5062/F4CN71WS |
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Amidst the furor of serials price increases, there is a steadily growing segment of the serials landscape with prices that can't be beat, that is to say, free. Many scholarly journals are freely available in electronic format (no subscription fee or membership required), but there has been little assessment of their impact on scholarly research. A fairly comprehensive list of free scholarly electronic journals in the science, technology, and medical fields was compiled and was examined using citation analyses. The results indicate that, unlike the situation five years ago (Harter 1998), there are several free scholarly electronic journals that have a significant impact on their respective fields.
In their early development, there had been a tradition of creating/offering free access to electronic journals, perhaps taking advantage of the lower production costs of electronic distribution. Hitchcock, Carr, and Hall (1996) found 47 out of 83 STM journals were free and planned to stay that way, and, looking across all disciplines, Harter and Kim (1996b) found 90% of e-journals in their study were free. Currently (Fosmire and Young, In press) only 18% of e-journals are free, although the absolute number of titles is still increasing (from 67 in the Harter and Kim study, to 213 in the Fosmire and Young study).
Despite their increasing numbers, free electronic journals did not appear to be receiving the attention they deserved from the library community (measured in terms of inclusion in catalogs and on library web sites), commensurate with their inclusion in major abstracting and indexing services (Fosmire and Young, In press). However, inclusion by an abstracting and indexing service is only a crude measure of quality, and the authors decided to investigate other indicators of a journal's quality and influence within its discipline.
Harter (1998) carried out an impact study on electronic journals that started publishing before 1994. Of the 38 journals in the sample, 15 had no citations to them in ISI's citation databases, while 8 had ten or more. Those eight titles exhibited high impact factors for their fields (>70th percentile), although low total numbers of articles published (typically 15th percentile and below). Since the pool of free scholarly electronic journals has increased considerably since 1994, and potentially the attitudes and publishing habits of researchers have changed as well, the authors felt it was worth re-investigating the importance of free scholarly electronic journals. (N.B., Harter's study was not limited to free journals, although six of the eight journals were freely available.)
One of the standard methods of indicating the importance of a journal is through its impact factor. The impact factor is an unobtrusive and objective measure of the effect an article has on researchers. While much has been written about motivation for citations (e.g., Brooks 1986; Gilbert 1977; Small 1978) and suggestions have been made for improving the measure (Harter and Nisonger 1997; Moed and Van Leeuwen 1995; Nisonger 1994), no other quantity has gained widespread acceptance as a replacement. To provide a more complete picture of the effect of a journal on scholarship, other measures that appear in ISI's Journal Citation Reports, the immediacy index and current articles quantities, were also analyzed.
Journals investigated in this study were selected from The Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters, and Academic Discussion Lists, 7th Edition, using the procedure described by Fosmire and Young (In press), and further limiting to just those titles in science, technology, and medicine (STM) fields. This yielded a final list of 84 titles. Once the titles had been selected, they were searched on the Institute for Scientific Information's (ISI) Web of Science database to find the number of citations to their articles. As the Web of Science searches citations based on a 20 character code, and their internal consistency is not complete, each title was searched using a three letter truncation of each word in the title (omitting stop words like 'of', 'the', etc.). Thus, for example, Emerging Infectious Diseases was searched as 'eme* inf* dis*'. In this way the authors attempted to capture as many citations as possible. The results lists were inspected to discard citations to other journals with similarly abbreviated titles.
The vast majority of free scholarly electronic journals are not indexed in Journal Citation Reports (JCR), so impact quantities for these journals were computed by the authors based on citations appearing in the Web of Science. The total number of articles published was determined by inspecting the journal's web site. In order to report the most current data, quantities for 1999 were computed, as follows:
Impact Factor = Number of citations received in 1999 to 1997 and 1998 articles/Number of articles published in 1997 and 1998.
Immediacy Index = Number of citations received in 1999 to 1999 articles/Number of articles published in 1999.
Current articles = Number of articles published in 1999.
The exception to the above method is for the British Medical Journal. Due to its large number of articles and citations, 1998 Journal Citation Reports data was used instead of 1999 Web of Science data. Also, the total number of 1997 and 1998 journal articles was not available for the International Journal of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences on its web site, so no impact factor was computed for that title.
Generally speaking, "the impact factor measures the current impact of the typical recently published article" in a particular journal, as Harter and Nisonger (1997) so eloquently state. The immediacy index is an indication of how quickly readers incorporate articles from a journal into their research, and the number of articles published gives an indication of the total impact (multiplied by impact factor) of the journal on the field.
Since the 1999 version of Journal Citation Reports was not available for comparison (and will not be available until 2001), the authors compare the computed 1999 data to the 1998 JCR data. While this may be perceived as comparing apples and oranges, the purpose of this study is merely to get an indication of the general quality of different free scholarly electronic journals, not to rank the journals absolutely with their non-free peers. By computing quantities from 1999 data, the authors were able to include several titles that would not otherwise have been possible with 1998 data, including several strong new journals.
Since journal citation rates differ between different subject areas, comparisons of journal titles should be amongst those in the same subject area. Seven major subject areas were identified that representated all the free scholarly electronic journals. All the relevant categories in JCR were then grouped into those seven major subject areas, and the impact factor of the top journal, the 90th percentile journal, and the 75th, 50th, and 25th percentile journals were tabulated. The immediacy index and current articles quantities for the same percentiles were also tabulated.
Of course, impact factors are not the definitive answer of the importance of a journal in its field. Impact quantities are computed based on a pool of journals that are indexed by the Web of Science. Thus, journals in subject areas not well covered by this pool (for example, education-related STM journals like Journal of Extension and Compute-Ed) will have impact factors lower than their true influence on their field. Also, journals indexed by the Web of Science have the advantage of self-citations, whereas the bulk of the journals investigated here do not. For niche journals that cover a narrow subject area in great depth, if no counterpart is indexed by the Web of Science, the lack of self-citations can seriously underestimate the importance of the journal to researchers in its field.
The following journals are the titles in our sample that started out as a print journal, rather than as an electronic journal.
Fosmire and Young. In press. "Free scholarly electronic journals: what access do college and university libraries provide?" College & Research Libraries.
Gilbert, G. N. 1977. "Referencing as persuasion." Social Studies of Science. 7:113-122.
Harter, Stephen P. 1998. "Scholarly communication and electronic journals: an impact study." Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 49.6 (1998): 507-516.
Harter, Stephen P. and Kim, Hak Joon. 1996a. "Electronic journals and scholarly communication: a citation and reference study." Proceedings of the Midyear Meeting of the American Society for Information Science, San Diego, CA, May 20-22, 1996: 299-315. [Online]. Available http://php.indiana.edu/~harter/harter-asis96midyear.html. [August 8, 2000].
________. 1996b. "Accessing electronic journals and other e-publications: an empirical study." College and Research Libraries 57 (September 1996): 440-456.
Harter, Stephen P. and Nisonger, Thomas E. 1997. "ISI's impact factor as misnomer: a proposed new measure to assess journal impact." Journal of the American Society for Information Science 48(12):1146-1148.
Hitchcock, Steve, Carr, Leslie, and Hall, Wendy. 1996. A Survey of STM Online Journals 1990-95: The Calm Before the Storm. [Online] Available: http://journals.ecs.soton.ac.uk/survey/survey.html#scope [August 8, 2000].
O'Connell, Heath. 2000. Most Cited High-Energy Physics Articles 1999 Edition. [Online] Available: http://www.slac.stanford.edu/library/topcites/top40.1999.html. [August 8, 2000]. Moed, H. F. and Van Leeuwen, Th. N. 1995. "Improving accuracy of Institute for Scientific Information's journal impact factors." Journal of the American Society for Information Science 46(6): 461-467.
Mogge, Dru W., Ed. 1997. Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists Foreword. [Online]. Available: {http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED398931&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED398931}. [August 8, 2000].
Nisonger, Thomas E. 1994. "A methodological issue concerning the use of Social Sciences Citation Index Journal Citation Reports impact factor data for journal ranking." Library Acquisitions: Practice and Theory, 18(4): 447-458.
Roes, Hans. 1994. "Electronic journals: a survey of the literature and the net." Journal of Information Networking 2.3: 169-186. [Online]. Available: {http://cwis.kub.nl/~dbi/users/roes/articles/ej_join.htm} [August 8, 2000].
Small, Henry G. 1978. "Cited documents as concept symbols." Social Studies of Science 8: 327-340.
Impact Factor | Immediacy Index | Current Articles | |||
99th | 19.00 | 99th | 1.82 | 99th | 986 |
90th | 1.56 | 90th | 0.29 | 90th | 184 |
75th | 1.00 | 75th | 0.19 | 75th | 101 |
50th | 0.58 | 50th | 0.10 | 50th | 53 |
25th | 0.31 | 25th | 0.04 | Journal of Extension | 52 |
Journal of Extension | 0.02 | Journal of Extension | 0 | Florida Entomologist | 44 |
Florida Entomologist | 0.01 | Florida Entomologist | 0 | 25th | 29 |
Impact Factor | Immediacy Index | Current Articles | |||
99th | 40.36 | 99th | 6.51 | 99th | 1633 |
Frontiers in Bioscience | 4.03 | Frontiers in Bioscience | 0.68 | 90th | 214 |
90th | 3.76 | 90th | 0.57 | 75th | 120 |
Conservation Ecology | 2.19 | 75th | 0.36 | Frontiers in Bioscience | 98 |
75th | 2.13 | Fungal Genetics Newsletter | 0.33 | 50th | 58 |
Molecular Vision | 1.65 | Molecular Vision | 0.20 | Molecular Vision | 41 |
50th | 1.11 | 50th | 0.17 | 25th | 30 |
25th | 0.60 | Conservation Ecology | 0.07 | Conservation Ecology | 27 |
Fungal Genetics Newsletter | 0.54 | 25th | 0.06 | Fungal Genetics Newsletter | 12 |
Impact Factor | Immediacy Index | Current Articles | |||
Cybermetrics | 6.00 | 99th | 1.21 | 99th | 364 |
99th | 4.94 | Neural Computing Surveys | 0.5 | 90th | 135 |
IBM Journal of Research and Development | 2.01 | IBM Systems Journal | 0.46 | IBM Journal of Research and Development | 50 |
Neural Computing Surveys | 1.75 | IBM Journal of Research and Development | 0.34 | IBM Systems Journal | 41 |
Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research | 1.59 | Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research | 0.25 | 75th | 73 |
90th | 1.24 | 90th | 0.22 | 50th | 39 |
IBM Systems Journal | 0.91 | 75th | 0.10 | Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research | 28 |
75th | 0.69 | 50th | 0.03 | 25th | 20 |
50th | 0.39 | 25th | 0 | Compute-Ed | 6 |
25th | 0.18 | Compute-Ed | 0 | Neural Computing Surveys | 6 |
Journal of Memetics | 0.13 | Journal of Memetics | 0 | Journal of Memetics | 4 |
Compute-Ed | 0.08 | Cybermetrics | 0 | Cybermetrics | 2 |
Impact Factor | Immediacy Index | Current Articles | |||
99th | 11.04 | 99th | 2.80 | 99th | 1642 |
MRS Internet Journal of Nitride Semiconductor Research | 3.73 | Journal of Research of the NIST | 0.23 | 90th | 219 |
Journal of Research of the NIST | 2.13 | 90th | 0.23 | MRS Internet Journal of Nitride Semiconductor Research | 165 |
90th | 1.37 | 75th | 0.12 | 75th | 115 |
75th | 0.74 | MRS Internet Journal of Nitride Semiconductor Research | 0.10 | 50th | 57 |
50th | 0.39 | 50th | 0.05 | 25th | 28 |
25th | 0.18 | 25th | 0.00 | Journal of Research of the NIST | 26 |
Impact Factor | Immediacy Index | Current Articles | |||
99th | 2.62 | 99th | 1.34 | 99th | 497 |
Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society | 1.82 | Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society | 1.00 | 90th | 140 |
90th | 1.06 | 90th | 0.22 | 75th | 85 |
Documenta Mathematica | 0.81 | Seminar Lotharingien de Combinatoire | 0.14 | International Journal of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences | 81 |
75th | 0.67 | 75th | 0.12 | Electronic Journal of Differential Equations | 50 |
Electronic Journal of Combinatorics | 0.61 | Electronic Journal of Probability | 0.11 | 50th | 49 |
Geometry and Topology | 0.59 | 50th | 0.06 | Contributions to Algebra and Geometry | 44 |
50th | 0.39 | Journal of Lie Theory | 0.04 | Electronic Journal of Combinatorics | 44 |
Theory and Applications of Categories | 0.28 | 25th | 0.03 | 25th | 29 |
New York Journal of Mathematics | 0.27 | International Journal of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences | 0.03 | Journal of Lie Theory | 27 |
Journal de Theorie des Nombres Bordeaux | 0.27 | Electronic Journal of Combinatorics | 0.02 | Journal de Theorie des Nombres Bordeaux | 26 |
25th | 0.25 | Contributions to Algebra and Geometry | 0 | Documenta Mathematica | 20 |
Contributions to Algebra and Geometry | 0.25 | Documenta Mathematica | 0 | Electronic Research Announcements of the AMS | 20 |
Electronic Research Announcements of the AMS | 0.24 | Electronic Journal of Differential Equations | 0 | Electronic Journal of Probability | 19 |
Journal of Lie Theory | 0.22 | Electronic Journal of Linear Algebra | 0 | Geometry and Topology | 17 |
Southwestern Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics | 0.16 | Electronic Research Announcements of the AMS | 0 | Electronic Journal of Linear Algebra | 14 |
Electronic Journal of Probability | 0.13 | Journal de Theorie des Nombres Bordeaux | 0 | New York Journal of Mathematics | 13 |
Electronic Journal of Linear Algebra | 0.11 | Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications | 0 | Southwestern Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics | 12 |
Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications | 0.09 | New York Journal of Mathematics | 0 | Theory and Applications of Categories | 12 |
Electronic Journal of Differential Equations | 0.05 | Southwestern Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics | 0 | Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society | 11 |
Seminar Lotharingien de Combinatoire | 0.04 | Theory and Applications of Categories | 0 | Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications | 7 |
International Journal of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences | N/A | Geometry and Topology | 0 | Seminar Lotharingien de Combinatoire | 7 |
Impact Factor | Immediacy Index | Current Articles | |||
99th | 42.93 | 99th | 7.28 | 99th | 1681 |
Emerging Infectious Diseases | 7.17 | British Medical Journal | 2.03 | British Medical Journal | 916 |
British Medical Journal | 5.33 | Emerging Infectious Diseases | 0.95 | Southern Medical Journal | 312 |
Blood, Cells, Molecules Diseases | 4.77 | Medicine and Global Survival | 0.60 | 90th | 261 |
Alzheimer's Disease Review | 4.38 | 90th | 0.49 | Radiographics | 196 |
90th | 3.03 | 75th | 0.27 | 75th | 149 |
Radiographics | 1.88 | Radiographics | 0.16 | Emerging Infectious Diseases | 123 |
75th | 1.81 | Blood, Cells, Molecules Diseases | 0.14 | Annals of Saudi Medicine | 122 |
Eurosurveillance | 1.71 | Eurosurveillance | 0.14 | 50th | 73 |
Southern Medical Journal | 1.01 | 50th | 0.12 | Blood, Cells, Molecules Diseases | 42 |
50th | 0.94 | 25th | 0.04 | 25th | 38 |
25th | 0.44 | Southern Medical Journal | 0.02 | Eurosurveillance | 37 |
Annals of Saudi Medicine | 0.24 | Annals of Saudi Medicine | 0.01 | Online Journal of Issues in Nursing | 29 |
Dermatology Online | 0.06 | Alzheimer's Disease Review | 0 | Dermatology Online | 8 |
Online Journal of Issues in Nursing | 0.03 | Dermatology Online | 0 | Alzheimer's Disease Review | 6 |
Medicine and Global Survival | 0 | Online Journal of Issues in Nursing | 0 | Medicine and Global Survival | 5 |
Impact Factor | Immediacy Index | Current Articles | |||
Advances in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics | 21.95 | 99th | 3.71 | 99th | 4386 |
99th | 13.56 | Journal of High Energy Physics | 1.59 | 90th | 619 |
Journal of High Energy Physics | 5.40 | Advances in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics | 0.98 | Journal of High Energy Physics | 354 |
90th | 3.21 | Living Reviews in Relativity | 0.75 | 75th | 272 |
New Journal of Physics | 2.00 | 90th | 0.51 | 50th | 101 |
Optics Express | 1.99 | Optics Express | 0.33 | Optics Express | 88 |
Living Reviews in Relativity | 1.77 | New Journal of Physics | 0.33 | Advances in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics | 40 |
75th | 1.74 | 75th | 0.31 | New Journal of Physics | 21 |
50th | 0.95 | Mathematical Physics Electronic Journal | 0.17 | 25th | 36 |
Mathematical Physics Electronic Journal | 0.91 | 50th | 0.15 | Mathematical Physics Electronic Journal | 6 |
25th | 0.47 | 25th | 0.05 | Living Reviews in Relativity | 4 |
Note: An annotated webliography of these and other STM free scholarly electronic journals, including statements of the journals' scope and where they are indexed, will appear in the Fall 2000 issue of ISTL.
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