Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 5 — May 2002
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IT News Report •
The Prestige (Factor) Is Gone
This start-up competitor to ISI's Journal Impact Factor has recently been forced out of business
by Paula J. Hane

A start-up company that audaciously challenged the ISI establishment and its prestigious Journal Impact Factor for measuring scholarly journal impact has come and gone in short order, apparently as a result of its inability to defend itself against a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. Prestige Factor, the now defunct Toronto-based company, operated and, two Web sites that offered databases boldly claimed to be superior to ISI's. Not much is known about Prestige Factor or its principals, since the company provided very little information on the sites and would not answer repeated requests for information. It appears that the sites may have first launched sometime last year. Apparently, Prestige Factor did not correctly gauge the impact factor of Thomson Corp., ISI's powerful parent.

According to information that was posted on before its demise, here's how the company perceived the main difference between its product and ISI's Impact Factor (IF): "Like IF, Prestige Factor (PF) measures the frequency that a journal is cited by other journals. However, PF takes into account ONLY citations to original articles. Thus, PF measures the true value of journals that publish scientific advances since innovative research is published only in original articles. Therefore, PF measures the true value of Academic Journals!"

Throughout the site, there were numerous direct comparisons between the Prestige Factor and the Impact Factor and of the claimed superiority of the Prestige Factor algorithms. In fact, the site gave this explanation for why Prestige Factor was developed: "Although ISI has been a dominant force in this field for over 30 years, it has not been responsive to some important needs of the scientific community. This prompted a pool of scientists and software experts to produce an alternative to ISI's Impact Factor rating system that would address some of these unmet needs (see the section on Problems and Solutions). No wonder the $6 billion monopoly of ISI is trying to squeeze the little guys out because of our more accurate and refined databases."

The disparagement of the ISI product was fairly blatant and direct. The site specifically stated that "IF can be a distorted and misleading indicator." There were tables that claimed important differences. For example, for the category "ascertains growth/decline," the entry for Prestige Factor says "yes," while the entry for Impact Factor says, "No. It shows false growth." Such a deliberate, calculated attack on ISI and on the quality and integrity of its products surely could not go unanswered.

In February, rumors circulated that ISI had sued Prestige Factor in federal court in New York. On February 15, 2002, ISI issued the following statement:

"In response to questions from customers and others in the industry regarding 'Prestige Factor' as compared to the 'Journal Impact Factor' from ISI Journal Citation Reports, ISI issues the following statement: 'ISI has filed a civil action against Prestige Factor (which distributes information via and in federal court in New York alleging violations of ISI's intellectual property rights. ISI is unable to comment in any further detail pending outcome of this litigation.'"

Then on March 22, Prestige Factor's management sent the following note to an unknown number of customers, indicating pretty clearly that its competitor's lawsuit was responsible for the shutdown:

"We regret to inform you that has gone out of business. Unfortunately, in the US/Canada anybody can be sued without merit. Very costly litigation matters (millions of dollars) to defend ourselves from our competitor are the reasons for this very sad decision.

"In order to fulfill our commitment with you we are e-mailing you the product (next e-mail) that you bought. Please download it to your desktop or server. If you wish to have the product in a CD-ROM format please let us know (e-mail us to and we will ship it to you as soon as possible.

"We apologize for any inconvenience that we might have caused."

Both Prestige Factor sites currently have just a bare-bones statement: "The services provided at this website are no longer available." A recorded message at the company's telephone number providesa similar statement. As of early April, sources at ISI indicated that the "lawsuit has not been retracted," so ISI and its parent company, Thomson, are "unable to comment in detail pending the outcome of the litigation."

Lacking access to specifics, one can only speculate at this point about the precise nature of the allegations or the amount of damages claimed. This does not appear to be a suit driven by accusations of slander but rather from offering a derivative work that involves intellectual property infringements.

And while the Web site is no longer available and the company is no longer in business, there is still concern for customers who bought the Prestige Factor products. Péter Jacsó had carefully reviewed PrestigeFactor's social sciences subset—finding it quite lacking in a number of ways—and had just submitted his article for publication in Information Today when the news broke about the company's demise. While we cannot publish his review here, the July issue of ONLINE will present a short review in Péter's Picks & Pans column. Jacsó has also posted his review on his Web site at In brief, he points to misrepresentations and misleading data in Prestige Factor's FAQ document and expresses concerns about the source of the journal citations in the PF databases. (Note that Jacsó's opinions are his own and not necessarily those of Information Today, Inc.)

By the way, Jacsó is a columnist for Information Today, a library and information science professor, and a recognized expert in database quality. He says that his requests to Prestige Factor for information went unanswered. Maybe the company understood his potential for impact.

Paula J. Hane is editor of NewsBreaks, contributing editor of  Information Today, a former reference librarian, and a long-time online searcher. Her e-mail address is

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