A drive by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a Europe-wide citation index this week reignited fears among academics that such a list would be unfairly employed in the next research assessment exercise.
The AHRC held a meeting with learned societies and subject associations last week to persuade them to respond to a consultation on a league table of journals drawn up by the members of the European Science Foundation. The foundation is building a European Reference Index for the Humanities.
The research council postponed plans to compile "top-ten" lists in February 2005 after protests from UK academics. Many still fear that a league table of journals could be used to rate research according to the ranking of the journal in which it is published.
But the council is now distributing the lists and collating UK responses for the ESF, whose members have proposed initial lists of journals in 15 separate disciplines ranging from anthropology to religious studies and theology.
These are divided into categories A, B and C: high-ranking international journals; standard international publications; and European research journals with local or regional significance.
David Wells, the Modern Humanities Research Association's honorary treasurer, said: "It is fairly obvious this will be used for the RAE and make it a tick-box exercise. How can you distinguish between international journals and ones with limited national use? Even the best journals have a great mixture in what they publish. However many journals are on the list, the judgment in ranking them is still highly dubious."
One academic at last Friday's meeting said there was "vigorous discussion"
but the AHRC assured those present that statistics would be not be used for any purpose other than rating the UK's output in relation to Europe.
The academic, who did not want to be named, said: "The particular anxiety is getting responses in by the April 28 deadline, which falls over the Easter break.
He added: "We will be advising various constituencies to do this because not to make some return would disadvantage the arts and humanities community."
Colin Cruise, the Association of Art Historians' chair, said the list's emphasis on European and US journals was worrying.
"It didn't include arts of the Far East, Africa or Oceania, and the implication was that they were dealt with in area studies. It's a bit like saying music is only from Western Europe and the US, otherwise it's anthropology," he said.