Posted by: bluesyemre | May 25, 2018

Learning from history: Understanding the origin of the JCR


This article is part of a 2018 JCR blog series exploring journal metrics, history, transparency, and features​. See more in this series.

For the past decade or so, the annual release of the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) has led to a frenzy of discussion about the Journal Impact Factors (JIF), their meaning, value, increase or decrease, and their imperfections. Before all that distraction sets in, it’s a good moment to examine the genesis of the JCR data. The construction of the JCR reflects several key ideas that were important to Dr. Garfield[i] and his colleagues at the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI).  Many of those values have been overlooked or overrun in the fetishizing of the JIF; it’s time to bring them forward again.

The first JCR began with this statement:

“This book is the product of more than ten years’ research”

Preface to Journal Citation Reports, Volume 9 of the 1975 SCI[ii]

By 1975 ISI was preparing the 11th release of the Science Citation Index (SCI).  The annual compilation of these data were, to Dr. Garfield, “a unique and unprecedented opportunity to look at references and citations not just as tools for information retrieval, but to look at them also as characteristics of the journals they linked.”  The JCR was presented as an extension of the SCI itself, not as a separate work or new direction.  Indeed, the first 14 years of JCR were published as the closing volumes of each year’s Citation Indexes.  Thus, the data that built the JCR are not different from or in contrast to the article citation data in the Citation Indexes.  Rather, the JCR reorganizes the article- and author-based citation index so that it can be used for the express purpose of understanding the citation properties of journals.

Like the Citation Indexes, the JCR is “…based on the principle that there is some meaningful relationship between one paper and some other that it cites or that cites it, and thus between the work of the two authors or two groups of authors who published the papers.”  In the construction of the JCR, the idea of meaningful citation linkage is projected onto the journal.  Thus, the cited and citing matrixes that form the majority of the data in the JCR are meant to answer the questions that were thought to be critical in understanding a journal’s role in the literature: “…who uses a particular journal? How frequently? For what purposes?”  Journal-to-journal relationships are a way to provide objective information about which scholarly communities are using a journal, and therefore more information about the topical focus of the content. The JCR demonstrates that citation linkage, created by scholarly authors in the process of publishing their work, is intrinsically relevant at scale.

The placement of JCR as an “annex” to the SCI had the direct consequence that the journals that appear in the JCR would be all and only those that were selected for indexing in the SCI.  As a discovery service, the SCI needed to balance selectivity, which gives authority and consistency, with breadth which ensures that the global scholarly community and the diversity of topics are represented.  From its earliest days, the source materials in Clarivate Analytics products have been validated by the selection process which has been a lodestar through the 54 year history of the Citation Indexes[iii]. The criteria for selection have always considered both quantitative and qualitative features of publications, so that the JCR is not a driver of journal selection at Clarivate Analytics, it is the beneficiary of that selection.  Predatory journals are not listed in the JCR because they are not indexed for Web of Science.  Selectivity ensures that the titles in the JCR have been pre- (and post-) certified as contributors to the scholarly literature.

The JCR takes citation data from selected sources and summarizes it at the level of the journal.  The JCR moves upward in organizational complexity from the article-to-article-network of the Citation Indexes, to a journal aggregate.  That makes it necessary to define operationally what a “journal” is, for the purpose of both data and metrics.  Again, there is a central idea and logic that has been too often lost in the consideration of the JCR.  Dr. Garfield said of his research using the first 10 years of the SCI:

“I began to study journals as socio-scientific phenomena as well as communications media.”

Studying journals from this perspective drives an operational definition of “journal” in the JCR that is more than merely a shell or container around a group of articles; a journal must be allowed to operate as a phenomenon within research, and in the communication of that research.  Contrary to an article-centric notion that treats the journal as a simple sum, this holistic notion of “journal” allows a dynamism to exist between articles and journals, with each contributing to the understanding of the other.  Journals are created and maintained, used and valued by a network of individuals: publishers and editors who set the direction, authors who submit, reviewers who comment, critique, and improve – and then readers – both readers who cite and readers who do not cite.  Journals and the individual items they contain are interdependent, but each has unique properties due to their level of organization in the scholarly communication system.[iv]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: