This is a question on the historicity of impact factors for journals. There are hundreds of questions and websites on the impact factor of journals, or journal rankings (and fake rankings and impact factors).

I was wondering:

  • When did rankings and impact factors become so prominent in academia?

  • Was there a general and widely shared decision by national governments or scientific societies that now, impact factors are the most important aspect for research and publications?

  • Was there a lack of clarity or even dissatisfaction with journals, publishers etc. among academic scholars that they pushed for certain (quantitative) standards?

Any research study or own experience is very welcome!

  • 2
    The ones by the Journal Citation Reports were since 1975. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_factor An other question if/where/when do they matter, especially in sight how differently these may be calculated.
    – Buttonwood
    Jun 22, 2017 at 22:40
  • 1
    I also found this as the starting point of using such metrics. My question was on the relevance respectively since when is such a measurement relevant? Or do you suggest directly from 1975 onwards? As I stated So, since when does the impact factor matter?
    – Stefan_W
    Jun 22, 2017 at 22:44
  • From this I guess the question is not about the installation of the IF, rather than their social context "why" they were introduced, and how they influence(d) reseach(er). Well then I misunderstood you, but still point to doi:10.1001/jama.295.1.90 (by E Garfield himself), and 10.1073/pnas.1509912112.
    – Buttonwood
    Jun 22, 2017 at 22:55
  • 8
    It's not clear to me that these contrived stats are prominent now, either, apart from the promotional efforts of the for-profit entities that generate these numbers... and, unsurprisingly, the affection for "simple (even if wrong)" numerical ratings of research in the minds of bureaucrats... But, as with many things, if sufficiently powerful entities promote made-up things as though they were real, in effect they become real in the sense that human behavior treats them as though they were... Jun 22, 2017 at 23:37
  • 1
    @paulgarrett Unfortunately the minds of bureaucrats have influence in the hiring and funding processes in some, possibly many, countries and, thus, yes, these contrived stats are still prominent now. Jun 23, 2017 at 1:23

1 Answer 1


I'll speak to my experience in the social sciences, and others are free to add their experiences from other disciplines. I see your question as part of a bigger question: more than scientometrics, when did quantification become prominent? And within what context? A recent paper published in The American Sociologist (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12108-017-9348-y) gives some insight to the question. The move towards quantification was gradual in America, from the 1960s onwards, when governments and institutions (i.e. Ford) began pouring more funding into quantitative research and essentially allowed it to become a privileged method of knowledge production.

People started inspecting results, doing research, and even seeing reality in different ways, where everything was broken down into data. This was a big deal in the social sciences. We were beginning to measure what had been unmeasurable. New subdisciplines were springing up. But we needed a way to order and evaluate these rapidly growing disciplines. Impact factors entered into this picture down the line. They complemented these changes by providing an effective way of quantifying and measuring output, and, by extension, prestige.

By contrast, in places where this quantification didn't happen the same way (Europe), impact factors are not used or referred to widely. In Europe, prestige has traditionally been more known, than it is measured in a quantitative sense. Rather, impact factors surely still exist, but don't carry the same weight. Particular journals and publishers, for instance, carry old-school, sedimented prestige from having published notable scholars in the past, etc. Today, this picture is beginning to change, and for the same reasons it did in America in the past. "Big-data" and quantification has begun dominating more funding, attention, and research, so impact factors are also becoming a bigger deal.

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