Index of journals scraps controversial grades

January 22, 2009

The architects of a controversial European journal-listing system for arts and humanities have made a major concession to those who fear that the index will be misused to judge the quality of academics' work.

The European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH) uses letters - A, B and C - to divide journals into "high-ranking international publications" (A), "standard international publications" (B) and those with important "local/regional significance" (C).

But the European Science Foundation (ESF), which is behind the index, agreed to drop the letters.

Michael Worton, a member of the ERIH steering committee and vice-provost of University College London, said the categories would be replaced with written descriptors, with the wording released soon.

"We have been saying it until we are blue in the face that this is not about hierarchies but about category difference ... (the change) will make everything a lot clearer," he said.

The decision came as 61 international journal editors prepared to fire their first salvo of the year against the index. The editors, of the history of science and science studies journals, said they intended to publish editorials in their first issues of 2009 requesting that their journals be withdrawn from the ERIH, a plan first reported in Times Higher Education last October.

"We want no part of this dangerous and misguided exercise," reads the joint editorial. "(This is) an expression of our collective dissent and our refusal to allow our field to be managed and appraised in this fashion," it continues.

The editors are also to refuse to join the panels being established to "improve" the ERIH listings.

Professor Worton said that while the journals editors could refuse to co-operate with the ESF over releasing further information for the project, they could not withdraw their publications from the lists because the journals existed in the public domain.

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