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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Reliability of journal impact factor rankings

Darren C Greenwood

Author Affiliations

Biostatistics Unit, Centre for Epidemiology & Biostatistics, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

BMC Medical Research Methodology 2007, 7:48  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-7-48

Published: 15 November 2007



Journal impact factors and their ranks are used widely by journals, researchers, and research assessment exercises.


Based on citations to journals in research and experimental medicine in 2005, Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo methods were used to estimate the uncertainty associated with these journal performance indicators.


Intervals representing plausible ranges of values for journal impact factor ranks indicated that most journals cannot be ranked with great precision. Only the top and bottom few journals could place any confidence in their rank position. Intervals were wider and overlapping for most journals.


Decisions placed on journal impact factors are potentially misleading where the uncertainty associated with the measure is ignored. This article proposes that caution should be exercised in the interpretation of journal impact factors and their ranks, and specifically that a measure of uncertainty should be routinely presented alongside the point estimate.