Response to Mark Carrigan’s “The ‘prestige’ of journals in a social media age”

As it turns out, our new dept head has asked us to look over the new REF guidelines for comment this week, so this issue is fresh on my mind.

What you say is interesting, especially if we’re talking about how to represent research interest and activity through journal publication. Yes, social media potentially can provide a better representation of that than the current journal bureaucracy. So no disagreement there.

Unfortunately, as exercises like REF illustrate all too well, ranking people, depts, research specialities, etc. is taken to be one of the important goals of publication, because publication is tied to resources. So the hierarchies that you decry are actually seen as a good feature of the current system. If those hierarchies were flattened as you suggest, it would be much harder to judge people and allocate resources.

So, on the policy side, you’d have to re-define the relationship between research prestige and resource allocation. So far it seems that you simply want them decoupled.

One way to look at the current fad for ‘impact factors’ is as addressing some of your criticisms of journal hierarchies by saying that what really matters is not where things are published but whether people do anything with them once they’re published. But of course, that really doesn’t address the spirit of your proposal because, in the current system, articles can’t have impact unless they’ve been published in the right journals in the first place (which is reflected in how ‘impact’ is measured).

An interesting test-case for your proposal would be the Science Citation Index, which puts out the Web of Knowledge. Those guys have always maintained that they are not in the evaluation business but are simply mapping the aggregate contours of the knowledge system. In principle, they should embrace the inclusion of all open access journals to get a more accurate representation of the research environment. But of course, in practice, SCI is quite picky about which journals it includes in its citation counts….

Categories: Higher Education

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