Rankings blind spots

January 13, 2011

Charles Harvey and his colleagues' defence of journal rankings does not withstand scrutiny (Letters, 6 January). They assert that some forms of ranking have been around for 40 years. But the longevity of a practice is not evidence of its utility. Smoking has been around for hundreds of years but, as many have found to their cost, it has unintended as well as intended consequences.

Harvey et al. represent their guide as the voice of reason: since research is evaluated and resources rationed their system is justified as one means of facilitating such exercises. However, their rankings are not merely far from perfect, as they acknowledge: they are fatally flawed. They take little to no account of emerging areas (such as sustainability) or of variations in article quality within specific journals. They fail to acknowledge that the value they impute to the "top" US journals marginalises competing, and no less worthwhile, forms of research and scholarship. Ultimately, they seem to suggest that since higher education is increasingly privatised and market-oriented, we might as well subordinate our research practices to whatever norms find vindication in "elite" US journals and whatever form of sponsorship private industry remains willing to fund.

There are journals that Harvey et al. do not rate highly. Their editors are advised that if they can't impress the Association of Business Schools' judges then they should consider winding up their journals. This blinkered prospectus does not offer a vision of higher education worth preserving. It is time to place a moratorium on destructive practices that are causing ever greater concern within the academy.

Dennis Tourish, Professor of leadership, Kent Business School.

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