Two Cultures Publishing Journals

I hate to keep highlighting silly articles in Inside Higher Ed, but they keep publishing silly articles, like Jeffrey DiLeo’s argument that humanities journals cannot be ranked because they’re all unique and precious flowers too specialized:

Another reason for the roaring silence regarding the ranking of humanities journals regards the high level of sub-disciplinary specialization. In philosophy, there are journals devoted to general areas of philosophy (e.g., logic, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, etc.), to sub-areas of general areas of philosophy (e.g., medical ethics, business ethics, bioethics, criminal justice ethics, metaethics, environmental ethics, Buddhist ethics, etc.), to the work of individual philosophers (e.g., Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Charles S. Peirce, Martin Heidegger, Gilles Deleuze, etc.), to the work of historical periods (e.g., ancient, medieval, modern, etc.), to various philosophical approaches (e.g., phenomenological, analytic, pragmatic, Marxist, historicist, continental, etc.), and so on. Given the heterogeneity of types of philosophy journals, while there is a high chance of at least some agreement on the top 10 journals in each of the areas or sub-disciplines, there will be very little chance of much agreement beyond this.

Yeah, that totally doesn’t happen in physics. Or biology or chemistry.

Don’t get me wrong– I’m not going to argue that Impact Factors and other journal-ranking schemes are an essential and important tool. Frankly, I think they’re pretty silly. But the number and specialization of humanities journals is not a serious obstacle to applying one ranking algorithm or another to humanities journals, with about the same effect that you see in the sciences. (Namely, a general agreement with conventional wisdom about what the top 10-20 journals in the field are, followed by somewhat arbitrary rankings of lower-prestige journals.)

The reason journal-ranking hasn’t caught on in the humanities is more likely due to many academics in the humanities hating and fearing anything that smacks of mathematics than anything to do with the number of journals. Humanities types aren’t likely to buy journal-ranking services from the companies whose business is selling journal rankings, so those rankings are far less likely to be generated. Scientists, engineers and social scientists love (the illusion of) quantitative measures, so they’re a much better market.

Comments

  1. #1 CCPhysicist
    June 22, 2010

    Ha! They should just say that there are no rankings in our journals, or in our classes.

    I’ll just comment that it isn’t an illusion if measurement agrees with perception, but there is a degree to which the perception results in the measured results. Some US national labs long ago assigned a point value to particular journals to use when toting up staff performance, so that guides where people send “important” papers and how they referee for those journals. That makes for a self-reinforcing system that is, IMHO, all to the good even if PRL is no longer the general interest communication it was originally intended to be.

    Meanwhile, at the other end, are the journals that don’t even make that Wiki list. I once did a double take when skimming the citations for one of my papers, to see if there was anything I should know about, and coming across one journal I had never heard of before. It isn’t on that Wiki list.

  2. #2 Rob Knop
    June 24, 2010

    I think we’re over-obsessed with ranking. While the arguments you quote against it are kind of silly, I have to admit that I’ve developed a knee-jerk sympathy for any argument against ranking because the drive to rank everything and everything has made me feel so ill….

    It’s important to realize that subdisciplines do have their own journals. Heck, 10? In astronomy and astrophysics, there’s broad agreement (I think) about the top four journals. (AJ, ApJ, MNRAS, A&A… and ApJL if you count that separate from ApJ) But, just before I joined, there was an obnoxious push in the Vanderbilt Physics department to value PRLs above all else.

    I also think that all of academia should do what UC was considering doing (I haven’t followed the outcome) and completely eschew Nature. It’s the most prestigious science journal of all, but the value of that seems to me to be very similar to picking out a given fraternity and saying that that’s the most prestigious living arrangement for a college undergrad.