Impact Factors and Ethics

The news that the Journal of Medical Ethics now has an impact factor of 1.889 is a commendation for those who have contributed to the journal’s success over recent years. It reflects the efforts of the editorial team led by Julian Savulescu, Tom Douglas and Dominic Wilkinson to maintain consistently high editorial standards and ensure the journal covered material of relevance and significance. Journals cannot flourish without excellent authors and reviewers, so those who have published or reviewed papers for the journal played a central role in this success too.

How much importance should we attach to impact factors in medical ethics? Clearly, they are one important measure of success: they demonstrate that material published in a journal and is of quality and originality sufficient for it to be discussed and referred to in other peer-reviewed journals. There are other metrics for measuring the success of ethics journals and Mark Hakkarinen from the Kennedy Institute of Ethics used H5 indices to calculate that the Journal of Medical Ethics was the top Bioethics journal from 2011-2015. This too is high praise for those who have been involved with the journal over recent years.

While these performance measures tell us something useful and important about how a journal is going, it’s also important to be mindful of why we have ethics journals, why they matter and what they should aim for. The Journal of Medical Ethics has always aimed to promote high quality, reasoned reflection upon significant moral issues in medicine. It has always aimed at publishing material that is accessible to readers from the full range of health professions and disciplines. Positive performance measures are an indication that we’re succeeding with our central aim, but impact factors and H indices should not drive editorial policy and should be taken as evidence that we’re on the right track.


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