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30 Mar 2017
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access type Open Access

Does Success Breed Success? A Study on the Correlation between Impact Factor and Quantity in Chinese Academic Journals

Published Online: 18 Aug 2021
Page range: -
Received: 25 Nov 2020
Accepted: 23 Jul 2021
Journal Details
License
Format
Journal
First Published
30 Mar 2017
Publication timeframe
4 times per year
Languages
English
AbstractPurpose

This paper studies the relationship between the impact factor (IF) and the number of journal papers in Chinese publishing system.

Design/methodology/approach

The method proposed by Huang (2016) is used whereas to analysis the data of Chinese journals in this study.

Findings

Based on the analysis, we find the following. (1) The average impact factor (AIF) of journals in all disciplines maintained a growth trend from 2007 to 2017. Whether before or after removing outlier journals that may garner publication fees, the IF and its growth rate for most social sciences disciplines are larger than those of most natural sciences disciplines, and the number of journal papers on social sciences disciplines decreased while that of natural sciences disciplines increased from 2007 to 2017. (2) The removal of outlier journals has a greater impact on the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers in some disciplines such as Geosciences because there may be journals that publish many papers to garner publication fees. (3) The success-breeds-success (SBS) principle is applicable in Chinese journals on natural sciences disciplines but not in Chinese journals on social sciences disciplines, and the relationship is the reverse of the SBS principle in Economics and Education & Educational Research. (4) Based on interviews and surveys, the difference in the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers for Chinese natural sciences disciplines and Chinese social sciences disciplines may be due to the influence of the international publishing system. Chinese natural sciences journals are losing their academic power while Chinese social sciences journals that are less influenced by the international publishing system are in fierce competition.

Research limitation

More implications could be found if long-term tracking and comparing the international publishing system with Chinese publishing system are taken.

Practical implications

It is suggested that researchers from different countries study natural science and social sciences journals in their languages and observe the influence of the international publishing system.

Originality/value

This paper presents an overview of the relationship between IF and the number of journal papers in Chinese publishing system from 2007 to 2017, provides insights into the relationship in different disciplines in Chinese publishing system, and points out the similarities and differences between Chinese publishing system and international publishing system.

Keywords

Introduction

Price (1976) stated that the success-breeds-success principle (SBS principle)

It should be noted that, according to Tague (1981), the definition of SBS rule includes many aspects, and we only discuss SBS rule at the journal level, which is also the limitation of this article.

serves as a critical model for explaining the source–item relationship in informetrics (Egghe & Rousseau, 1996; Van Hooydonk, 1994). For example, scholars who have published many papers are more likely to publish papers than those who have published fewer papers, and journals that are frequently read are more likely to be read again. Van Hooydonk (1994) and Egghe and Rousseau (1996) wrote their papers at different times when electronic journals and package deals hardly existed. Therefore, in order for a journal to expand its number of articles, it must be very successful. In fact, more articles mean more typesetting, more paper, and more distribution costs. These can only be covered if more copies of the journal are sold. In this case, only the best journals or the most influential journals can increase their numbers of published articles. Currently, some journals only exist in electronic editions, and journals that still exist in paper form no longer obtain their main income from these paper editions.

Furthermore, Huang (2016) rediscovered this cumulative advantage when observing the relationship between the impact factor (IF) and the number of journal papers (or the relationship between quality and quantity according to Huang) in various discipline areas of the Scientific Citation Index (SCI). Moreover, he found a positive correlation between the two. However, Chen, Song, and Yang (2018) thought that this did not agree with common sense and provided a counterexample of Chinese economic academic journals. Thus, the SBS rule is not suitable for all journal publishing systems. There may be significant differences between the Chinese journal publishing system and the international journal publishing system. In addition, Chen, Song, and Yang (2018) did not show the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers in other disciplines of Chinese academic journals. Economics, as a branch of the social sciences, is different from the natural sciences, and its research objects often have strong regional characteristics, which do not reflect the overall picture of the various disciplines of Chinese academic journals.

Unlike Western scientists, Chinese scientists have paid more attention to quantity than quality until recently. Moreover, the academic evaluation standards of various countries have also been increasingly influenced by English in academia, and their respective publishing systems are inevitably influenced by international publishing systems such as Web of Science journals. For example, although the total number of SCI papers submitted from China has increased in recent years, the total number of Chinese Science Citation Database (Jin & Wang, 2019) papers published in Chinese natural sciences journals decreased from 2010 to 2019 according to the China National Knowledge Infrastructure database.

Thus, due to the different characteristics of the Chinese and international journal publishing systems and the focus of scientists, we investigate to what extent this relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers is different between the Chinese journal publishing system and the international journal publishing system. Due to the different research objects and content of different disciplines, the impact associated with the international publishing system is also different. Compared with the social sciences, the natural sciences are probably more susceptible to the influence of the international publishing system, so we investigate if the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers in different discipline journals is different. Because China is one of the countries with the largest changes in the number of SCI papers published since 2000 and is increasingly influenced by the international publishing system, investigating the Chinese publishing system as a research object is of interest. In addition, since the Chinese journal publishing system is increasingly influenced by the international publishing system and even the international publishing system itself is changing, there are increasingly more journals that only have an electronic edition. Is the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers also changing? For example, is it increasingly approaching the SBS principle of the international publishing system as discovered by Rousseau and Van Hooydonk (1996)?

The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 summarizes the literature on the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers. Section 3 describes Huang's method that is used in this paper. Section 4 illustrates the empirical results and discusses their causes. Section 5 concludes and discusses possible research directions.

Literature review

Egghe and Rousseau (1996) proved that the slope for the regression line of the IF and the number of journal papers is positive if and only if the global impact factor (GIF) is greater than the average impact factor (AIF)

AIF: The average value of the IFs for all the journals in this field; GIF: The sum of all the references (the same citation time window as used to calculate AIF) divided by the sum of all published articles.

. Rousseau and van Hooydonk (1996) found that for non-review journals, the number of papers that a journal published is positively correlated with its IF, but review journals and translation journals are exceptions to this rule. Their cases show that the journals with the highest IFs publish the most articles, which is also true but less significant when review journals are included (Egghe & Rousseau 1996, Rousseau & van Hooydonk 1996). Ren and Rousseau (2002) calculated the GIFs for five fields and compared them with the AIFs. They found that journals with a higher IF published more articles even when review journals were included. The relationship between journal productivity and citations in the semiconductor field found in Tsay and Ma (2003) also supported this rule. Havemann, Heinz, and Roland (2005) investigated the scaling properties of journal output and impact according to the Journal Citation Reports which is published by Clarivate Analytics, and their findings are also in qualitative agreement with those of Rousseau and Van Hooydonk (1996). There are a few exceptions to the rule, such as mathematics (Rousseau, 1988).

Huang (2016) analyzed SCI/SSCI (Social Sciences Citation Index) journal data and derived no ambiguity between the quantity and quality of scholarly journals. A positive correlation was confirmed, that is, the higher the IF of a scholarly journal is, the higher the number of papers. Rousseau (2016) noted that Huang introduced a new approach by investigating the correlation between the number of citations and the number of publications, and the results in Rousseau and Van Hooydonk (1996) were confirmed. Chen, Song, and Yang (2018) found a negative correlation between the IF and the number of journal papers in Chinese economic journals and described the Chinese journal publishing system, which they believed may be the cause of the negative correlation.

Although Chen (2018) provided a counterexample in Chinese journals, the findings of the aforementioned studies are relatively consistent by using international journal data. Thus, one purpose of this study is to test the correlation between the quantity and IF of Chinese journals and verify the distinctions among discipline categories.

Analysis method
Huang's model

Huang (2016) proposed a new method to show the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers. We also use this method because it is intuitive and convenient for comparing this study with others. To thoroughly demonstrate the correlation between the number of articles and the IF, the following Lorenz curve formula (1) is employed to compute the accumulated number of articles, as in Huang (2016). In detail, yi=j=1iNjj=1MNjandxi=iM,i=1,2,,M,xi(0,1]{y_i} = {{\sum\nolimits_{j = 1}^i {{N_j}} } \over {\sum\nolimits_{j = 1}^M {{N_j}} }}and\;{x_i} = {i \over M},i = 1,2, \cdots ,M,{x_i} \in (0,1] where M denotes the number of journals included in a discipline; N denotes the number of journal papers; and i = 1, 2, 3,..., M. The curve y(x) is continuous and monotonically increasing, and the point (x, y) starts from (0, 0) and ends at (1, 1). If the number of journal papers is independent of the IF, the result would be a straight line y=x; if the number of published articles is positively or negatively related to the IF, the straight line would bend upwards or downwards and become convex or concave, respectively. Thus, a positive or negative correlation is demonstrated by a convex or concave region. Huang (2016) proposed a parametrization formula: y=x+αxβ(1x)γy = x + \alpha {x^\beta }{\left( {1 - x} \right)^\gamma } where α, β, and γ are the associated parameters. Among these parameters since xβ (1 − x)γ ≥ 0, x ∈ (0, 1], a positive or negative α represents a positive or negative relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers, respectively. This will affect the bending direction of the straight line y=x.

Data source

The data used in this paper were all collected from the 2007–2017 Chinese Science and Technology Journal Citation Reports (extended edition) released by the Chinese Science and Technology Information Institute. More than 7,000 Chinese science and technology journals, which can be divided into more than 150 disciplines or research fields, are included in this database. In addition, we exclude journals with incomplete data from 2007 to 2017 in this database because the lack of data for a certain year or several years in these journals makes calculations impossible. As most disciplines contain fewer than 100 journals, we reclassify the journals according to the classification methods of the Essential Science Indicators (ESIs) disciplines and SCI/SSCI disciplines, and their corresponding Chinese journal disciplines are listed in Appendix. The ESI disciplines are Agricultural Sciences; Economics & Business; Plant & Animal Science; Geosciences; Materials Science; Engineering; Social Sciences, general; and Clinical Medicine. The SCI/SSCI disciplines are Economics and Education & Educational Research. Notably, Library and Information Science is included in Social Sciences, general.

Chen (2018) mentioned that some journals publish many articles to obtain publication fees, which may significantly influence the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers. However, it was found that removing journals that require publication fees is hard to realize, for it is almost impossible to collect data on publication fees. First, it is very difficult to obtain data on publication fees of so many journals for many years. Second, those journals that garner expensive publication fees are not willing to mention it. However, most journals that require publication fees for making money have an obvious feature: they publish a larger number of papers that are significantly more than the average level of journals in the same research field. Only by publishing a large number of papers can they obtain huge profits. Nevertheless, we must admit that it may also exclude some journals that have no purpose of making money, and journals that publish a larger number of papers may reveal some interesting findings.

In this paper, we only exclude journals that publish an excessively larger number of papers. This method excludes journals that are more than two standard deviations from the average number of articles in the discipline to which they belong until outliers cannot be detected. Additionally, we compare and analyze the data before and after outliers are excluded. The corresponding calculation formula is a s follows: y={keep,xμ+2σremove,x>μ+2σy = \left\{ {\matrix{ {keep,x \le \mu + 2\sigma } \hfill \cr {remove,x > \mu + 2\sigma } \hfill \cr } } \right. where y symbolizes whether a journal is retained, x is the number of publications of a journal, μ is the mean, and σ is the standard deviation.

Empirical results
Descriptive statistics

The number of journals in each discipline before and after removing outliers is presented in table 1.

Number of journals before and after removing outliers.

Number of journals (before removing outliers)Number of journals (after removing outliers)
Clinical Medicine524418
Materials Science139120
Agricultural Sciences153123
Engineering793746
Geosciences174150
Plant & Animal Science165145
Social Sciences, general487419
Economics & Business162136
Economics126107
Education & Educational Research178145

Note: The first seven disciplines are divided according to ESI disciplines, and the last two disciplines are divided according to SCI/SSCI disciplines.

Before removing outliers, the AIF of all disciplines maintained a growth trend from 2007 to 2017, and the growth rate of the AIF of social sciences disciplines was generally larger than that of natural sciences disciplines. Among the disciplines, Education & Educational Research had the largest increase, which was 190.10%, while Materials Science had the smallest increase, which was 28.94%. Moreover, the AIF of social sciences disciplines was generally larger than that of natural sciences disciplines, which is vastly different from international journals. Among the disciplines, Economics & Business had the highest AIF value of 1.601, and Materials Science had the lowest AIF value of 0.499 in 2017. The related data are presented in table 2.

AIFs of journals from 2007 to 2017 before removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine0.5370.5510.5530.5460.5980.5670.6690.7850.9040.9791.115
Materials Science0.3870.3950.3920.3730.4370.3880.3950.4120.4730.4640.499
Agricultural Sciences0.5370.5890.5860.5950.7100.6310.6620.6590.7290.7140.795
Engineering0.3170.3580.3580.3560.4390.3980.4310.4700.5460.5570.605
Geosciences0.8030.9050.8690.8310.9990.7460.8030.8530.9730.9961.052
Plant & Animal Science0.4540.4880.4950.5020.5940.5070.5310.5300.5940.5840.644
Social Sciences, general0.4750.5390.5330.5080.5200.4960.5820.6120.7540.7860.980
Economics & Business0.7980.8170.8200.8120.8490.8930.9790.9801.1411.1701.601
Economics0.7180.7660.7850.7660.7850.8380.9080.8971.0531.0561.488
Education & Educational Research0.3030.3910.4130.4090.4540.4380.5020.5310.6450.7580.879

After removing outliers, the AIF in all disciplines also maintained a growth trend from 2007 to 2017, and the growth rate of the AIF of social sciences disciplines was also generally larger than that of natural sciences disciplines. Among the disciplines, Education & Educational Research had the largest increase, which was 193.46%, while Geosciences had the smallest increase, which was 28.21%. Additionally, the AIF of social sciences disciplines was also generally larger than that of natural sciences disciplines. Among the disciplines, Economics & Business had the highest AIF value of 1.759, and Materials Science had the lowest AIF value of 0.483 in 2017. The related data are presented in table 3.

AIFs of journals from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine0.5760.5890.5880.5730.6200.5800.6850.7930.9070.9661.100
Materials Science0.3620.3690.3710.3490.4180.3730.3830.3940.4560.4510.483
Agricultural Sciences0.5600.6070.6010.6080.7270.6450.6640.6680.7290.7170.792
Engineering0.3090.3500.3510.3470.4290.3880.4200.4550.5260.5350.578
Geosciences0.8330.9370.9070.8631.0600.7770.8280.8780.9811.0081.068
Plant & Animal Science0.4680.5010.5080.5150.6180.5220.5460.5450.5990.5980.658
Social Sciences, general0.4910.5550.5470.5170.5320.5040.5940.6280.7700.8091.010
Economics & Business0.8410.8770.8890.8770.9240.9681.0441.0561.2401.2711.759
Economics0.7920.8380.8590.8350.8600.9170.9910.9781.1521.1551.640
Education & Educational Research0.3060.3940.4150.4070.4570.4420.5060.5330.6580.7920.898

In the past 20 years, the number of scientific researchers in China has been increasing (according to the Statistical Yearbook of China), the level of scientific research has been continuously improving, the literature reviews have been more detailed, the analysis has been being more comprehensive, and the number of references has also been increasing (according to the Chinese Science & Technology Journal Citation Report). There is no doubt that the AIFs of all disciplines are increasing.

However, the AIF of Materials Science and Engineering is lower in most years from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers, which means that the removal of outliers from journals with a large number of journal papers may not be applicable to all disciplines. Thus, the robustness of the conclusions can be better observed when combined with the analysis before and after removing the outliers. The related data are presented in table 4.

AIF differences before and after removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine−0.039−0.038−0.035−0.027−0.022−0.013−0.016−0.008−0.0030.0130.015
Materials Science0.0250.0260.0210.0240.0190.0150.0120.0180.0170.0130.016
Agricultural Sciences−0.023−0.018−0.015−0.013−0.017−0.014−0.002−0.0090.000−0.0030.003
Engineering0.0080.0080.0070.0090.0100.0100.0110.0150.0200.0220.027
Geosciences−0.030−0.032−0.038−0.032−0.061−0.031−0.025−0.025−0.008−0.012−0.016
Plant & Animal Science−0.014−0.013−0.013−0.013−0.024−0.015−0.015−0.015−0.005−0.014−0.014
Social Sciences, general−0.016−0.016−0.014−0.009−0.012−0.008−0.012−0.016−0.016−0.023−0.030
Economics & Business−0.043−0.060−0.069−0.065−0.075−0.075−0.065−0.076−0.099−0.101−0.158
Economics−0.074−0.072−0.074−0.069−0.075−0.079−0.083−0.081−0.099−0.099−0.152
Education & Educational Research−0.003−0.003−0.0020.002−0.003−0.004−0.004−0.002−0.013−0.034−0.019

Before removing outliers, the growth trend of the average number of journal papers is not the same as that of the AIF. From 2007 to 2017, the average number of journal papers in social sciences disciplines decreased, and that of natural sciences disciplines increased. Among the disciplines, Agricultural Sciences had the largest increase, which was 67.60%, and Agricultural Sciences had the largest average number of journal papers, which was on average 426.399, while Geosciences had the smallest average number of journal papers, which was on average 151.529. The related data are presented in table 5.

Average number of papers per journal from 2007 to 2017 before removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine367.656392.357416.643461.531476.490439.389398.555459.832399.448437.170411.149
Materials Science144.317149.835153.101157.871159.705162.849166.496169.489162.460171.921174.942
Agricultural Sciences254.412323.941359.098398.013419.503427.941429.412419.366388.961422.078426.399
Engineering190.512210.762216.921223.752228.185225.115231.318232.724232.576244.702239.006
Geosciences135.534138.368143.851150.816152.948151.885158.362161.626159.747162.460151.529
Plant & Animal Science162.230183.061190.612202.194212.182212.885212.370222.018201.388216.079206.388
Social Sciences, general199.351208.175211.918210.832218.975218.066210.273204.483189.975196.353181.587
Economics & Business285.358290.512291.080295.049297.451283.938285.086268.222269.148276.148275.198
Economics283.548285.183281.913285.889280.413270.881271.762257.817241.000241.222242.008
Education & Educational Research247.652272.624281.562276.590284.708281.197253.028247.669233.815232.601213.410

Note: Due to the large range of values, the heat map is drawn separately for each row.

By contrast, after removing outliers, from 2007 to 2017, the average number of journal papers on social sciences disciplines also decreased, and that of natural sciences disciplines also increased. Among the disciplines, Agricultural Sciences had the largest increase, which was 27.85%, while Economics had the largest decrease, which was −21.84%. In addition, in 2017, Clinical Medicine had the largest average number of journal papers, which was on average 258.094, while Geosciences had the smallest average number of journal papers, which was on average 110.987. The related data are presented in table 6.

Average number of papers per journal from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine235.259245.070252.830285.065285.163262.427247.966278.796246.247273.496258.094
Materials Science120.525125.925127.325130.675130.108129.075129.475127.517124.800131.075125.525
Agricultural Sciences166.309180.057188.683201.496207.065206.268207.683216.740204.065217.634212.634
Engineering150.943158.423161.470165.301168.070167.677170.829170.702164.181171.956163.218
Geosciences97.507101.433102.580105.293108.920106.993109.860112.033113.820114.753110.987
Plant & Animal Science140.697151.179156.952159.924161.697160.179155.510156.917146.186152.931146.248
Social Sciences, general147.589155.368156.642156.730160.389160.570155.623151.912140.931146.678134.737
Economics & Business189.574198.713196.868196.853194.897191.794188.544180.846165.515170.507156.338
Economics195.150202.364199.411196.776195.019192.449190.664181.140162.916167.579152.523
Education & Educational Research160.138168.524171.117170.821172.138169.869162.269160.641149.607152.559143.414

Note: Due to the large range of values, the heat map is drawn separately for each row.

Based on the aforementioned analysis, we drew the following conclusions. The AIFs of the journals in all disciplines maintained a growth trend from 2007 to 2017. Whether before or after removing outliers, from 2007 to 2017, the AIF and its growth rate for social sciences disciplines were generally larger than those of natural sciences disciplines, the average number of journal papers on social sciences disciplines decreased, and the average number of journal papers on natural sciences disciplines increased. After removing outliers, the yearly average number of papers per journal decreased.

Geosciences as a case to apply the method

Due to the large number of disciplines, we use Geosciences as an example. Figures 1 and 2 show the situation before and after removing outliers, respectively. We plot data from 11 years (2007–2017) in one graph and use different gray colors, which gradually darken as the year progresses, for each year's data. Geosciences include 174 and 150 journals before and after removing outliers, respectively. The vertical axis y is the cumulative number of journal papers, and the horizontal axis x is the ranking of the IF after normalization. The α values of Geosciences are presented in tables 7 and 8.

Figure 1

Plot of all the Geosciences data from 2007 to 2017 before removing outliers. Solid line shows y = x.

Figure 2

Plot of all the Geosciences data from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers. The solid line shows y = x.

The of disciplines from 2007 to 2017 before removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine−0.115−0.121−0.116−0.074−0.081−0.012−0.0190.0360.0320.0490.043
Materials Science0.1420.1220.1270.1350.1210.1130.0780.1410.1480.1260.084
Agricultural Sciences−0.0270.037−0.0260.039−0.0380.057−0.038−0.073−0.067−0.064−0.049
Engineering0.0300.0780.0740.0780.0510.0560.0390.0660.1090.1140.112
Geosciences−0.111−0.091−0.083−0.064−0.080−0.056−0.031−0.018−0.012−0.0120.033
Plant & Animal Science−0.014−0.028−0.035−0.042−0.064−0.065−0.076−0.0580.0340.0130.020
Social Sciences, general−0.058−0.037−0.032−0.010−0.011−0.011−0.012−0.017−0.028−0.037−0.050
Economics & Business−0.172−0.182−0.185−0.159−0.167−0.155−0.142−0.148−0.209−0.207−0.249
Economics−0.191−0.202−0.210−0.194−0.201−0.196−0.201−0.202−0.240−0.233−0.278
Education & Educational Research0.021−0.013−0.018−0.023−0.032−0.0310.0180.0210.015−0.025−0.025

The of disciplines from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine0.0400.0320.0290.0290.0100.0200.0230.0360.0380.0450.044
Materials Science0.0650.0410.0460.0380.0430.0420.0090.0410.0550.0530.068
Agricultural Sciences0.0340.0540.0660.0830.0650.0790.0830.0780.0890.0980.109
Engineering0.0250.0290.0320.0460.0330.0390.0290.0480.0660.0630.082
Geosciences0.0620.0500.0790.0890.0910.0900.1030.1060.1100.1030.127
Plant & Animal Science0.006−0.004−0.018−0.014−0.024−0.0170.0170.0250.0590.0330.065
Social Sciences, general0.0000.0140.0170.0390.0320.0400.0430.0280.0280.0130.021
Economics & Business−0.080−0.098−0.093−0.068−0.071−0.069−0.079−0.075−0.056−0.075−0.046
Economics−0.030−0.098−0.097−0.072−0.070−0.072−0.086−0.081−0.063−0.089−0.064
Education & Educational Research0.0180.0270.0210.0190.012−0.0130.0130.006−0.004−0.025−0.021

In figure 1, the dark data are on the top, and the light data are on the bottom, indicating that the relationship between the number of journal papers and the IF becomes increasingly more positively correlated. In addition, the data are distributed on both sides of y=x, which shows that the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers changed from negative to positive.

In figure 2, the dark data are on the top, and the light data are on the bottom, indicating that the relationship between the number of journal papers and the IF also becomes increasingly more positively correlated. The data are all distributed above y=x, which means that the relationship in Geosciences has always remained positively correlated after removing outliers, indicating that outliers may have a substantial influence on the relationship. The outliers garner excessive publication fees and rely on publishing many papers, which greatly affects their quality, lowers their IF, and may cause a negative correlation in certain years.

Based on the above analysis, we continue to discuss the situation both before and after removing outliers.

Results in various disciplines

We calculate the value of α in each discipline, according to formula (2), before and after removing outliers; the results are presented in tables 7 and 8, respectively.

Before removing outliers, the α of 7 disciplines was negative in 2007, and 2 became positive in 2017. Additionally, the α of 5 disciplines increased from 2007 to 2017. Among the disciplines, Clinical Medicine, Geosciences, and Plant & Animal Science changed from negative to positive, while Education & Educational Research changed from positive to negative. After removing outliers, the α of 3 disciplines was negative in 2007, and the α of 3 disciplines remained negative in 2017. Additionally, the α of 8 disciplines increased from 2007 to 2017. Among the disciplines, “Social Sciences, general” changed from negative to positive, and Education & Educational Research changed from positive to negative.

Before removing outliers, the number of disciplines in which α increased and the number of disciplines in which α decreased is equal. However, after removing outliers, the number of disciplines in which α increased is larger than the number of disciplines in which α decreased. Moreover, before or after removing outliers, Materials Science and Engineering maintained positive correlations; Economics & Business and Economics maintained negative correlations, while Education & Educational Research maintained a change from positive to negative.

In 2017, the α of Economics & Business, Economics, and Education & Educational Research remained negative either before or after removing outliers, indicating that the negative correlation between the IF and the number of journal papers in these disciplines is robust. Additionally, the α of Clinical Medicine, Materials Science, Engineering, Geosciences, and Plant & Animal Science remained positive either before or after removing outliers, indicating that the positive correlation between the IF and the number of journal papers in these disciplines is robust. However, the α of Agricultural Sciences and Social Sciences generally changed from negative to positive after removing the outliers, indicating that there are journals that have many articles published but low IF in these two disciplines. These journals may publish many papers to garner excessive publication fees while ignoring the quality of these papers.

The aforementioned analysis demonstrates that the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers in natural sciences disciplines tends to be positively correlated and that in the social sciences disciplines tends to be negatively correlated. Moreover, the α of natural sciences disciplines tends to be larger, and the α of social sciences disciplines tends to be smaller.

One possible explanation of the situation in Chinese journals

One possible explanation for the SBS principle is that journals with high IFs receive more submissions than journals with low IFs, and there are correspondingly more publishable papers that fulfill certain criteria. However, different phenomena are discovered in Chinese journals. The relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers in Chinese journals on natural sciences disciplines is positive and that for Chinese journals on social sciences disciplines is negative. This may be caused by the influence of the international publishing system according to our interviews with some journal editors and surveys of the natural sciences evaluation system in many universities, which is also partly reflected in Chen (2018).

Because Chinese universities mainly implement SCI-based evaluation standards in the natural sciences until recently, Chinese natural science journals are not highly recognized and have lost their academic power. Except for a few journals, for example, Science of China and Science Bulletin, Chinese natural sciences journals have received little attention from researchers. Moreover, researchers who gain funding from the Natural Science Foundation of China are ordered to publish papers in Chinese journals to ensure that these journals remain in business. Thus, few Chinese submissions are increasingly concentrated in a few well-recognized journals. This may also explain why the AIF of Materials Science and Engineering is lower after removing the outliers.

By contrast, CSSCI journals remain highly recognized by Chinese universities. Because of the higher language requirements of SSCI journals and the regional characteristics of the research objects in the social sciences, only a few Chinese researchers publish articles in SSCI journals. For example, the impact of publishing an article in Social Sciences in China is similar to that of publishing in American Economic Review in some universities. In addition, the CSSCI list is adjusted every two years, causing Chinese social sciences journals to be in a highly competitive situation and many journals with a higher IF to consciously control the number of articles published in order to improve or maintain the quality. When the Journal of Wuhan University and the Journal of Tongji University were removed from the CSSCI list in 2017, they issued a statement expressing anger but had to allow authors to withdraw their accepted but unpublished manuscripts

Available online: https://www.sohu.com/a/124768409_488760 (accessed on 14 June 2020).

.

In addition, Chinese natural sciences journals are losing their academic power, which can also be partly corroborated by the fact that the AIF and increase in the AIF of Chinese natural sciences disciplines are smaller than those of Chinese social sciences disciplines (see the details in table 2 and table 4) from 2007 to 2017, which is rather opposite in the international publishing system. According to the China Education Statistics Yearbook, the share of full-time social sciences teachers of and doctoral students studying social sciences was only 75.79% of the number of full-time natural sciences teachers of and doctoral students studying natural sciences in 2017, the number of full-time natural sciences teachers of and doctoral students studying the natural sciences in China increased by 40.0% from 2007 to 2017, and the number of full-time teachers of and doctoral students studying social sciences increased by 14.0% over the same period.

In summary, the difference in the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers for Chinese natural sciences disciplines and Chinese social sciences disciplines may be due to the influence of the international publishing system. However, the α of “Social Sciences, general” fluctuated from 2007 to 2017 and was larger than 0 after removing the outliers, indicating that there may be differences between various disciplines that belong to social sciences, such as the α of Economics and Education & Educational Research being increasingly negative. This phenomenon indicates that journals in Economics and Education & Educational Research are becoming increasingly competitive, and the other social science disciplines may experience weaker competition. For example, according to the China Education Statistics Yearbook, the number of full-time teachers of literature and philosophy decreased by 15.8% from 2007 to 2017, and the proportion of those teachers in all the social sciences decreased from 47.4% to 35.9%.

Conclusions

Based on Chinese journals in China, this paper studies the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers. The results are as follows: (1) The AIF of journals in all disciplines maintained a growth trend from 2007 to 2017. Whether before or after removing outliers, the AIF and its growth rate for most social sciences disciplines were larger than those of natural sciences disciplines; from 2007 to 2017, the average number of journal papers on social sciences disciplines decreased while that the average number of journal papers on natural sciences disciplines increased. After removing outliers, the average number of journal papers on all disciplines decreased. (2) The removal of outlier journals has a greater impact on the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers in some disciplines such as Geosciences because there may be journals that publish many papers to garner excessive publication fees. (3) The relationship between the IF and number of journal papers in most natural sciences disciplines is positively correlated, and that in most social sciences disciplines is negatively correlated. In addition, the α of most natural sciences disciplines is larger than the α of most social sciences disciplines.

Based on the aforementioned results and explanation, we draw the following conclusions: (1) The SBS principle is applicable in Chinese journals on natural sciences disciplines but not in Chinese journals on social sciences disciplines, and the relationship is the opposite of the SBS principle in Economics and Education & Educational Research. (2) According to interviews and surveys, the difference in the relationship between the IF and the number of journal papers for Chinese natural sciences disciplines and Chinese social sciences disciplines may be due to the influence of the international publishing system. Chinese natural sciences journals are losing their academic power, while Chinese social sciences journals are in fierce competition. (3) The research objects, research methods, and research content of the natural sciences are the same worldwide, and the research objects and research content have regional and national characteristics; thus, social sciences journals are less influenced by the international publishing system.

In further research, we suggest that researchers from different countries study natural science and social sciences journals in their languages and observe the influence of the international publishing system. Although Huang (2016) rediscovered the rule of SBS, as mentioned above, because it is different from the era when Van Hooydonk (1994) and Egghe and Rousseau (1996) wrote their papers, long-term tracking and analysis of the international publishing system are also necessary. Further research could also study the impact of the current journal system of Chinese social sciences on scientific researchers, and there is a need to define how to remove the journals that garner excessive publication fees in different disciplines, and deal with the possible influence of the name change (often changing the subject area), merger, split, change of sponsors of a journal.

Figure 1

Plot of all the Geosciences data from 2007 to 2017 before removing outliers. Solid line shows y = x.
Plot of all the Geosciences data from 2007 to 2017 before removing outliers. Solid line shows y = x.

Figure 2

Plot of all the Geosciences data from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers. The solid line shows y = x.
Plot of all the Geosciences data from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers. The solid line shows y = x.

AIF differences before and after removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine−0.039−0.038−0.035−0.027−0.022−0.013−0.016−0.008−0.0030.0130.015
Materials Science0.0250.0260.0210.0240.0190.0150.0120.0180.0170.0130.016
Agricultural Sciences−0.023−0.018−0.015−0.013−0.017−0.014−0.002−0.0090.000−0.0030.003
Engineering0.0080.0080.0070.0090.0100.0100.0110.0150.0200.0220.027
Geosciences−0.030−0.032−0.038−0.032−0.061−0.031−0.025−0.025−0.008−0.012−0.016
Plant & Animal Science−0.014−0.013−0.013−0.013−0.024−0.015−0.015−0.015−0.005−0.014−0.014
Social Sciences, general−0.016−0.016−0.014−0.009−0.012−0.008−0.012−0.016−0.016−0.023−0.030
Economics & Business−0.043−0.060−0.069−0.065−0.075−0.075−0.065−0.076−0.099−0.101−0.158
Economics−0.074−0.072−0.074−0.069−0.075−0.079−0.083−0.081−0.099−0.099−0.152
Education & Educational Research−0.003−0.003−0.0020.002−0.003−0.004−0.004−0.002−0.013−0.034−0.019

List of SSCI disciplines and their corresponding Chinese journal disciplines.

SSCI disciplinesChinese journal disciplines
EconomicsBusiness Economics
National Economics, Management Economics, Quantitative Economics
Economics, general
Finance, Insurance
Ecological Agriculture Economics
Education & Educational ResearchAdult Education, Vocational and Technical Education
Higher Education
Comprehensive Education
Preschool Education, General Education

Average number of papers per journal from 2007 to 2017 before removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine367.656392.357416.643461.531476.490439.389398.555459.832399.448437.170411.149
Materials Science144.317149.835153.101157.871159.705162.849166.496169.489162.460171.921174.942
Agricultural Sciences254.412323.941359.098398.013419.503427.941429.412419.366388.961422.078426.399
Engineering190.512210.762216.921223.752228.185225.115231.318232.724232.576244.702239.006
Geosciences135.534138.368143.851150.816152.948151.885158.362161.626159.747162.460151.529
Plant & Animal Science162.230183.061190.612202.194212.182212.885212.370222.018201.388216.079206.388
Social Sciences, general199.351208.175211.918210.832218.975218.066210.273204.483189.975196.353181.587
Economics & Business285.358290.512291.080295.049297.451283.938285.086268.222269.148276.148275.198
Economics283.548285.183281.913285.889280.413270.881271.762257.817241.000241.222242.008
Education & Educational Research247.652272.624281.562276.590284.708281.197253.028247.669233.815232.601213.410

The of disciplines from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine0.0400.0320.0290.0290.0100.0200.0230.0360.0380.0450.044
Materials Science0.0650.0410.0460.0380.0430.0420.0090.0410.0550.0530.068
Agricultural Sciences0.0340.0540.0660.0830.0650.0790.0830.0780.0890.0980.109
Engineering0.0250.0290.0320.0460.0330.0390.0290.0480.0660.0630.082
Geosciences0.0620.0500.0790.0890.0910.0900.1030.1060.1100.1030.127
Plant & Animal Science0.006−0.004−0.018−0.014−0.024−0.0170.0170.0250.0590.0330.065
Social Sciences, general0.0000.0140.0170.0390.0320.0400.0430.0280.0280.0130.021
Economics & Business−0.080−0.098−0.093−0.068−0.071−0.069−0.079−0.075−0.056−0.075−0.046
Economics−0.030−0.098−0.097−0.072−0.070−0.072−0.086−0.081−0.063−0.089−0.064
Education & Educational Research0.0180.0270.0210.0190.012−0.0130.0130.006−0.004−0.025−0.021

Average number of papers per journal from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine235.259245.070252.830285.065285.163262.427247.966278.796246.247273.496258.094
Materials Science120.525125.925127.325130.675130.108129.075129.475127.517124.800131.075125.525
Agricultural Sciences166.309180.057188.683201.496207.065206.268207.683216.740204.065217.634212.634
Engineering150.943158.423161.470165.301168.070167.677170.829170.702164.181171.956163.218
Geosciences97.507101.433102.580105.293108.920106.993109.860112.033113.820114.753110.987
Plant & Animal Science140.697151.179156.952159.924161.697160.179155.510156.917146.186152.931146.248
Social Sciences, general147.589155.368156.642156.730160.389160.570155.623151.912140.931146.678134.737
Economics & Business189.574198.713196.868196.853194.897191.794188.544180.846165.515170.507156.338
Economics195.150202.364199.411196.776195.019192.449190.664181.140162.916167.579152.523
Education & Educational Research160.138168.524171.117170.821172.138169.869162.269160.641149.607152.559143.414

AIFs of journals from 2007 to 2017 after removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine0.5760.5890.5880.5730.6200.5800.6850.7930.9070.9661.100
Materials Science0.3620.3690.3710.3490.4180.3730.3830.3940.4560.4510.483
Agricultural Sciences0.5600.6070.6010.6080.7270.6450.6640.6680.7290.7170.792
Engineering0.3090.3500.3510.3470.4290.3880.4200.4550.5260.5350.578
Geosciences0.8330.9370.9070.8631.0600.7770.8280.8780.9811.0081.068
Plant & Animal Science0.4680.5010.5080.5150.6180.5220.5460.5450.5990.5980.658
Social Sciences, general0.4910.5550.5470.5170.5320.5040.5940.6280.7700.8091.010
Economics & Business0.8410.8770.8890.8770.9240.9681.0441.0561.2401.2711.759
Economics0.7920.8380.8590.8350.8600.9170.9910.9781.1521.1551.640
Education & Educational Research0.3060.3940.4150.4070.4570.4420.5060.5330.6580.7920.898

List of ESI disciplines and their corresponding Chinese journal disciplines.

ESI disciplinesChinese journal disciplines
Agricultural SciencesAgricultural Engineering
Agricultural Science, general
Agronomy
Food Science and Technology
Soil Science
Economics & BusinessBusiness Economics
National Economics, Management Economics, Quantitative Economics
Economics, general
Ecological Agriculture Economics
Management
Finance, Insurance
Accounting, Auditing
Plant & Animal ScienceAnimal Husbandry, Veterinary Science
Entomology, Zoology
Forestry
Fisheries
Horticulture
Plant Protection
Botany
Prairie
GeosciencesAtmospheric Science
Geography
Earth Science, general
Geophysics
Geology
Marine science, Hydrology
Mine Engineering and Technology
Geomatics
Materials ScienceMaterials Science, general
Metallic Material
Metallurgical Engineering and Technology
Textile Science and Technology
Polymer Engineering
EngineeringBuilding Science and Technology
Energy Science, general
Instrumentation Technology
Electrical Engineering
Electronic Technology
Engineering and technology science
Mechanical Engineering Design
Machinery Manufacturing Process and Equipment
Oil and Gas Engineering
Aerospace Science and Technology
Civil Engineering
Weaponry Science and Technology
Safety Science and Technology
Power Engineering
Applied Chemical Engineering
Road Transport
Transport Engineering
Water Conservancy Project
Waterway Transportation
Rail Transport
Communication Technology
Biological Engineering
Chemical Engineering, general
Fine Chemical Engineering
Social Sciences, generalSocial Science, general
Sociology, general
History
Departmental law, Criminal investigation, Forensic science
Law synthesis
Ethnology and Culturology
Religious Studies
Library Science, Philology
Information Science
Foreign Linguistics
Linguistic, general
Adult Education, Vocational and Technical Education
Higher Education
Comprehensive Education
Preschool Education, General Education
Archives, Museum Studies
International Politics, Diplomacy
Administration
Archaeology
Marxism
Demography, Labour Science
Foreign Literature
Journalism and Communication Studies
Art
Philosophy
Political Science, general
Chinese Literature
Military science
Clinical MedicineHealth Medicine
Paediatrics
Otorhinolaryngology
Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Orthopaedic Surgery
Nuclear Medicine, Medical Imaging
Respiratory Disease, Tuberculosis
Nursing
Basic Medicine
Military Medicine
Stomatology
Clinical Medicine, general
Clinical Diagnostics
Epidemiology, Environmental Medicine
Urology
Endocrinology and Metabolism, Rheumatology
Internal Medicine, general
Dermatology
General Surgery, Thoracic Surgery, Cardiovascular Surgery
Burn Surgery, Plastic Surgery
Sports Science
Surgery, general
Health Management, Health Education
Digestive Disease
Cardiology
Sex Medicine
Haematology, Nephrology
Ophthalmology
Medical, general
Eugenics, Family Planning
Preventive Medicine and Public Health
Acupuncture
Integrative Medicine
Chinese Medicine
Oncology
Biomedical Engineering

Number of journals before and after removing outliers.

Number of journals (before removing outliers)Number of journals (after removing outliers)
Clinical Medicine524418
Materials Science139120
Agricultural Sciences153123
Engineering793746
Geosciences174150
Plant & Animal Science165145
Social Sciences, general487419
Economics & Business162136
Economics126107
Education & Educational Research178145

AIFs of journals from 2007 to 2017 before removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine0.5370.5510.5530.5460.5980.5670.6690.7850.9040.9791.115
Materials Science0.3870.3950.3920.3730.4370.3880.3950.4120.4730.4640.499
Agricultural Sciences0.5370.5890.5860.5950.7100.6310.6620.6590.7290.7140.795
Engineering0.3170.3580.3580.3560.4390.3980.4310.4700.5460.5570.605
Geosciences0.8030.9050.8690.8310.9990.7460.8030.8530.9730.9961.052
Plant & Animal Science0.4540.4880.4950.5020.5940.5070.5310.5300.5940.5840.644
Social Sciences, general0.4750.5390.5330.5080.5200.4960.5820.6120.7540.7860.980
Economics & Business0.7980.8170.8200.8120.8490.8930.9790.9801.1411.1701.601
Economics0.7180.7660.7850.7660.7850.8380.9080.8971.0531.0561.488
Education & Educational Research0.3030.3910.4130.4090.4540.4380.5020.5310.6450.7580.879

The of disciplines from 2007 to 2017 before removing outliers.

20072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Clinical Medicine−0.115−0.121−0.116−0.074−0.081−0.012−0.0190.0360.0320.0490.043
Materials Science0.1420.1220.1270.1350.1210.1130.0780.1410.1480.1260.084
Agricultural Sciences−0.0270.037−0.0260.039−0.0380.057−0.038−0.073−0.067−0.064−0.049
Engineering0.0300.0780.0740.0780.0510.0560.0390.0660.1090.1140.112
Geosciences−0.111−0.091−0.083−0.064−0.080−0.056−0.031−0.018−0.012−0.0120.033
Plant & Animal Science−0.014−0.028−0.035−0.042−0.064−0.065−0.076−0.0580.0340.0130.020
Social Sciences, general−0.058−0.037−0.032−0.010−0.011−0.011−0.012−0.017−0.028−0.037−0.050
Economics & Business−0.172−0.182−0.185−0.159−0.167−0.155−0.142−0.148−0.209−0.207−0.249
Economics−0.191−0.202−0.210−0.194−0.201−0.196−0.201−0.202−0.240−0.233−0.278
Education & Educational Research0.021−0.013−0.018−0.023−0.032−0.0310.0180.0210.015−0.025−0.025

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