SOCIAL scientists are to be offered a source of academic gossip to rival never-ending speculation about the research assessment exercise.
The Association of Learned Societies in the Social Sciences will soon begin the consultation to find the 30 to 35 founder members of its planned Social Science Academy. Each of the 31 affiliated societies will nominate two candidates from its own discipline, backed by a statement of their credentials and referees' reports, and one from the whole of social sciences.
They have been asked to reply by January. Ian Forbes, chair of ALSISS and professor of politics at Nottingham University, said: "We have given our member associations a fair amount of time to ensure that they have the chance to consult as widely as possible."
His group, the Political Studies Association, will discuss how to consult at the next meeting - he expects them to use newsletters, mailings to members and email.
Members will be asked to consider not only the scholarly achievements of candidates, but also their commitment to the social science community and its development.
Professor Forbes said he recognised that choosing members was likely to become a popular party game among academics, and that this was a good thing: "It is a way of setting people thinking about what makes a good academic and a good contribution to the social sciences."
The nominees will be considered by a six-strong steering group chaired by Professor Forbes and also including the ALSISS president Lord Plant, president of St Catherine's College, Oxford. Their recommendations will be considered by the ALSISS executive and then by its council, which includes representatives of all 31 affiliates.
Professor Forbes declined to say who he might vote for. But he said that candidates who won support from outside their disciplines were likely to be at an advantage.
While there will be considerable cachet attached to the label of "founder fellow", runners-up are unlikely to be disappointed for long - plans for the academy envisage it reaching a membership of about 300 within five years.
The planners have landed those responsible for nominations with some really tough choices. The one thing four social scientists agreed on when asked to name two academicians from their own discipline and one at large was that it was incredibly tough. Political scientist Joni Lovenduski of Southampton University said it was too difficult. Evidence from others was that London School of Economics and Nuffield College sociologists might figure strongly.
Political scientist Justin Fisher of Guildhall nominated the LSE's Pat Dunleavy and London Guildhall colleague Anne Phillips for his own subject and Nuffield's Anthony Heath in the at-large slot. James Curran, professor of communications at Goldsmiths College, voted for Stirling's Phillip Schlesinger and the Open University's Stuart Hall, but declined to nominate at large.
Paul Johnson, an economic historian at the LSE, warned against the possibility of creating an academy of elderly males. Pressed further he went for the LSE's Howard Glennerster and Loughborough's Ruth Lister in social policy and Cardiff's Pat Hudson and the LSE's Nick Crafts in economic history. His at-large choice was Nuffield sociologist John Goldthorpe.