|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 PrestigeFactor.com
and inforMEDicine.com, 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
According to information that was posted on PrestigeFactor.com 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 PrestigeFactor.com 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
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
"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 PrestigeFactor.com) and inforMEDicine.com 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
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 prestigefactor.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
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 http://www2.hawaii.edu/~jacso/extra.
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 email@example.com.