Concern greets proposal to include books in journal-ranking system

European Reference Index for Humanities may soon assess monographs' impact. Zoe Corbyn reports

November 27, 2008

A controversial European ranking system for humanities journals is to be expanded to include books, Times Higher Education can now confirm.

The expansion could see the publishers of edited volumes and monographs ranked alongside journals as part of the European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH). The list is the brainchild of the European Science Foundation (ESF).

Michael Worton, vice-provost at University College London and a member of the ERIH steering committee, said a group was currently being put together to begin work on developing a methodology for a classification system for books "earlyish" in the new year.

"We need to be looking at what kind of classification system - probably of publishers - is going to be most useful," he said. "There is not a presupposed methodology in place yet."

Professor Worton declined to make any predictions about how publishers might be ranked, but said that issues such as the nature of books' impact would need to be considered.

The goal is to draw up ranked lists for edited volumes and monographs in the same way that there are now ranked lists of journals for 15 areas of the humanities.

But the extension to the system is likely to further anger some humanities researchers who have already raised strong objections to the journal rankings. Critics of the ERIH say that the listings are poorly conceived and have already been used to judge the work of individual researchers in matters such as appointments.

"The idea of having our book outputs judged indirectly through the commercial success of the publisher is a frightening one," said Kersti Borjars, a professor of linguistics at the University of Manchester and president of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain.

Robin Osbourne, professor of history at the University of Cambridge and chairman of the Council of University Classical Departments, said: "The idea seems patently absurd - and (it is) very hard to see how it could be done."

But Professor Worton said that the ESF was responding to researchers' requests.

"It is the community that has been saying really consistently that they feel edited volumes and monographs need to be looked at," he said.

He also criticised researchers for "misunderstanding" the journal rankings, saying that they gave an indication of "dissemination and impact" of journals rather than the quality of individuals' articles.

Professor Worton added that while some UK researchers were unhappy with the lists, there was a "great deal of enthusiasm" for them across Europe.

He said that it was "inappropriate" to use the journal lists to make decisions on appointments, promotions or research grants, and that academics needed to stand up to administrators who wished to use them for these purposes.

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