Words, not numbers 3

December 22, 2006

As a Canadian legal scholar responsible for promoting and evaluating research, I note that any plan to evaluate scholarship on the basis of "research income, postgraduate numbers and bibliometrics" would lead to nonsense outcomes.

Scholarship produced by diverse methods and directed to enormously varied problems cannot be measured by the levelling device of "research income". This would lead to an academic hierarchy that places gadget-intensive sciences at the top, positivist social science in the middle and humanities at the bottom.

Bibliometrics too often follow fashion rather than merit. The extraordinary parochialism of US academics makes pursuing research on Riel's rebellion or the development of responsible government in Canada, say, akin to professional suicide. Rational historians must focus their energies on fashionable US topics.

If US journals rule, so too do topics of interest to a mass readership of US academics. And yet, Canada matters and Britain has mattered enormously in the history of the world. Humanities scholarship needs to be saved from the enormous condescension of a unipolar world.

Whatever its merits in the UK, the evaluation of research by metrics in Canada would systematically undervalue excellent work and occasionally elevate palpable nonsense. It would systematically undervalue Canada itself.

W. Wesley Pue
Nathan T. Nemetz chair in legal history, University of British Columbia

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