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Attending the 2006 World Federation of Occupational Therapists Congress, which was held in Australia in July, was a stimulating and inspiring experience. In excess of 2,300 occupational therapists came together from around the world to share their knowledge of, and passion for, occupational therapy. OT Australia did a marvellous job of organising the event which was held in the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre on Darling Harbour.

In our respective roles as editor of the Journal of Occupational Science and the New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, we were invited to attend an editors meeting. We were in esteemed company, sitting alongside representatives from both the British and Canadian Associations, and editors of the WFOT Bulletin, Occupational Therapy International, Work, the Philippine Journal of Occupational Therapy, the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal and several others. The main topic for discussion was the way in which systems that rank professional journals might influence the content of occupational therapy journals, and what we, as editors, might do about concerns over those systems.

The ranking systems generate 'impact factors'. These factors are intended to indicate the impact a specific journal may have on knowledge development. It is a concern that only two occupational therapy journals have an impact factor. This issue has relevance for NZJOT readers, hence our decision to outline what is at stake and our thoughts about options for the future.

To explain the issues further, impact factors rank journals in relation to each other. This judgement is made from the perspective of things that matter to scientists; and how often articles are cited by other authors within a two year period. Various organisations calculate impact factors, but the most influential appears to be the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI), which publishes journal rankings on its website ( The ISI is a privately owned organisation, which accepts very few new journals onto its database. Its calculations are based on the number of times articles from a particular journal are cited in other journals held in the ISI database within two years of publication. This number is then divided by the total number of articles published in the journal over the same period (Fricke, 2006). ISI impact factors range from 20 or so to less than one. Generally an impact factor of less than 1.5 is considered fairly poor.

All this may seem irrelevant to the world of occupational therapists, except that universities around the world are increasingly looking to the impact of academics' publications to inform decisions about employment, tenure and promotion. That is, academics who have not published in high impact journals suffer personal consequences. The outcome is that occupational therapy literature is increasingly being diverted to non-occupational therapy journals. In an ideal world, this might be cause for celebration. Have we not all complained that other health professions do not understand what occupational therapists do? What better to way to spread the word than infiltrating their literature? The problem is that academics, like all of us, have limits on their time and efforts. Submitting their theories, research, critique and reflections to professional journals with higher impact factors means they frequently do not also publish in the occupational therapy literature. As a result, they may not directly address the concerns or development of occupational therapy practice.

Compounding the problem is the fact, documented in many fields, that impact factors systematically favour some journals over others (Rodger, McKenna, & Brown, 2006). Journals that fare well tend to be those that focus on science rather than practical knowledge, to have wide readership, and to be published in English in America. Not surprisingly, the occupational therapy journals with impact factors, albeit currently ranking less than 1.0, are published in English in the US. Journals that serve specialist interests such as paediatrics, mental health, or practice in Scandinavia, the Philippines or New Zealand are unlikely to ever get an impact factor.

Two schools of thought exist about how to respond. One argument is that editors of occupational therapy journals should strenuously work towards achieving an impact factor, by representing their interests to ISI, meeting their criteria, and ensuring that articles they publish cite literature recently published in their own and other occupational therapy journals with an impact factor. Another strategy would be to favour review articles over original research, because reviews tend to be cited by subsequent authors discussing the same topic.

Another school of thought, voiced most strongly by representatives from the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, holds that entering into the ISI ranking system would inevitably belittle occupational therapy journals. This view is based on the belief that even the best of our publications could only ever achieve a ranking between 1.0 and 1.5. Furthermore, accepting journal impact factors as the means of establishing which journals are most prestigious would work against publications in other languages, as well as those that publish less frequently (such as NZJOT), or that serve specialist interests within the profession. We were at pains to also point out that in accepting any system that elevated American journals over others, the profession would be working against the principles of valuing diverse cultural perspectives of health and occupation, and diversity of practice in response to different health needs around the world.

Informed by this alternate view, the Canadians strongly urged editors attending the meeting to follow the path forged by nurses, in developing an alternative system of ranking journals within their profession. Such an initiative, it was proposed, could be led by WFOT. Dr Anne Carswell, recently elected as vice-president of WFOT, has undertaken to spearhead this task on WFOT's behalf. Anne was not present to address the meeting, however, which meant that her views could not be canvassed.

What we can report at this stage is that we were persuaded by the perspective the Canadians brought to the table. Accordingly, we both intend to actively respond to any initiatives that are forthcoming from WFOT or the editors themselves.

Dr Clare Hocking and Grace O'Sullivan


Fricke, J. (2006). Editorial. On impacts and other factors. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 53, 1-2.

Rodger, S., McKenna, K., & Brown, T. (2006). Quality and impact of occupational therapy journals: Authors' perspectives. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, online early. Retrieved August 8, 2006, from http:// j.1440-1630.2006.00595.x
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Author:Hocking, Clare; O'Sullivan, Grace
Publication:New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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