In “The REF is mistaken: monographs are not inferior to papers” (Opinion, 7 December), Bruce Macfarlane argues that the research excellence framework is eroding the value of books in the humanities and social sciences.
Books (and it is largely the humanities and not the social sciences that publish books) suffer from a lack of definition as to what the object covers and also a vast number of pay-to-publish outfits that print on demand. As long as books are necessary for promotion – as in many countries not so far from the UK, where a “never mind the quality, feel the width” approach is adopted – Mickey Mouse publishing will continue, and it is not only the UK that will be dragged down.
Part of the problem lies in quality assessment. Journal standards and their peer review methods are known, and they give a good proxy of quality. Books are a different kettle of fish. Books are often the highest level of scholarly achievement, and this must be praised and defended, but low-achievement books are rife.
The analysis of evaluation protocols and their strengths and weaknesses is being undertaken within the European Network for Research Evaluation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities (ENRESSH) COST network. We have a special interest group looking at books from both a bibliometric and non-bibliometric aspect. Many of us are humanities scholars keen to promote good-quality outputs.
Evaluation and books are a vital question for Europe, and beyond (we have observers from outside the European Union). Unfortunately, we have little UK input; it is as if Britons have already left Europe and have confused Europe and European values with those of the European Commission.