Editors demand an opt-out from journal rankings

October 2, 2008

The editors of 45 international academic journals have asked for their titles to be removed from a controversial new journal ranking system.

In a joint editorial titled "Journals under threat: A joint response from history of science, technology and medicine editors", the 45 editors denounce the European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH).

"We want no part of this dangerous and misguided exercise," says the joint editorial, which is being published in journals including The British Journal for the History of Science, History of the Human Sciences and Archives of Natural History.

The European Science Foundation, which is behind the ERIH, said that the ranking aimed to improve the visibility of European humanities research published in European languages.

But in their editorial, the journal editors argue that there is another goal: to provide funding bodies with an "exact measure of research quality". They write: "In short, if research is published in a premier league journal, it will be recognised as first rate; if it appears somewhere in the lower divisions, it will be rated (and not funded) accordingly. This initiative is entirely defective in conception and execution ... Great research may be published anywhere and in any language."

The editors believe groundbreaking work is more likely to appear outside mainstream journals and that a publication's scope and readership say nothing about its content. "The ERIH ... confuses internationality with quality in a way that is particularly prejudicial to specialist and non-English language journals," they say.

The editorial also complains that the four-strong committee charged with overseeing the ranking process in science studies "cannot be considered representative". "It was not selected in consultation with any of the various disciplinary organisations that currently represent our field," the editors say.

A spokesperson for the Arts and Humanities Research Council said that the AHRC did not think the ERIH should be used to assess the research of individuals, departments or institutions. "Such use misunderstands their purpose."


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