Journals 'top ten' sparks a rebellion

January 28, 2005

A mass revolt erupted this week against moves to create "top ten" lists of the most important journals in a bid to establish new performance measures for arts and humanities research.

Subject leaders in history, law, philosophy, media studies, architecture and music came together to voice outrage at the plans being pushed by the Government.

They warned that an official "hierarchy" of academic journals would kill off emerging disciplines and publications.

There are also worries that the lists could ruin research careers as academics clamour to be published in the same journals. Those who fail to win publication could be cast into the research wilderness by university managers.

Christine Geraghty, chair of the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Association, said: "It is a further sign of the Government's Fordist determination to put research into hierarchical boxes with a financial value on them.

"Lists like this stultify research, increase the power of certain individuals and institutions and run the risk of making it harder for new ideas and new journals to find an audience."

The Arts and Humanities Research Board is consulting the sector to compile lists of the top ten "most important and significant" journals in ten subject areas, under pressure from the Government to create a "quantitative indicator" of research quality to justify its £70 million a year budget.

The AHRB's chief executive, Geoffrey Crossick, explained in a letter to departments last month that while the humanities had resisted attempts to create simple indicators "or metrics" to measure quality, "some form of quantitative indicator is still required".

He added: "Simply saying 'no' is not an acceptable position, because it carries the risk that other alternatives will be developed and imposed."

By analysing the numbers of articles by UK authors in the listed journals, the AHRB will measure the impact of the work it funds.

David Bates, director of the Institute of Historical Research, said that he had written to the AHRB after canvassing every history department and finding "well nigh" unanimous opposition to the plans.

"Many colleagues believe the whole exercise to be so deeply flawed and damaging that it must be abandoned immediately," he wrote.

Martin Daunton, president of the Royal Historical Society and chair of the school of humanities at Cambridge University, said that a list could lead to "stasis", killing off top-ranking journals of the future.

Mark Everist, chairman of the National Association of Music in Higher Education, wrote to the AHRB warning that the list could be abused by university managers, who "reach out for crude and simplistic tools to measure, judge and reward academic performance".

The British Philosophical Society has sent a letter signed by 45 heads of department confirming a boycott of the plan. The heads say that ten journals "could not possibly accommodate the many different kinds of research which are produced by philosophers".

The heads of four subject associations and learned societies for law have also written, warning that the plan could "seriously distort the nature of legal research and scholarship".

Michael Jubb, deputy chief executive of the AHRB, said the board was consulting widely to ensure its lists were robust. He added that the lists would be used only to reach an "intentionally very broad brush" indicator across the disciplines and so could not be used outside the AHRB to judge quality at subject level or in departments.

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