UPDATES: European Research Index for the Humanities: AUX ARMES CITOYENS!

Herewith the latest news (as at 10 November 2008) on the ERIH controversy, c/o the French studies academic community (plus a link to discussion in the History and Philosophy of Science community). Again, this affects or will affect us all, across the Humanities: if you are not already involved in the issue, it is hoped that these updates might poke you towards such engagement, provide arguments to copy & paste, or indeed introduce you to kindred spirits and potential new friends … [All email addresses have been removed.]

Philip E. Bennett, Professor of Medieval French Language & Culture, University of Edinburgh:

I would like to add my personal concerns to those expressed by Lucille Cairns in her email and in the letter appended to her message.

Perusing the lists of periodicals drawn up in History, Linguistics and Literature, areas central to my own concerns as a student of medieval French, I found I had several concerns. The main one was the regularity with which major periodicals addressing smaller specialist audiences were graded “B”, especially if they also published solely or predominantly in a language other than English. There are, of course, honourable exceptions, but very broadly this is true. It is also notable that periodicals which include the name of an institution in their title, or which are known to be closely attached to one institution tend to be graded “B”, again with one or two honourable exceptions.

There is also a lack of reference in all necessary areas to periodicals which publish in more than one topic. Professor Cairns drew attention to some, but in my own area I would add:
Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale (listed only in History, where it is rated “B”), Revue Romane (Copenhagen), Romanische Forschungen, Zeitscrift für Französische sprache und Literatur (all only in Linguistics, all graded “B”).

I suspect that the grading of all these items reflects the interests of the membership of the very small panels concerned. I would add my voice to that of others in lamenting the absence of any transparency in the appointment of academics to panels. I would consider that in terms of the literary and philological research they publish they should be graded “A”. As should Romania.

I would also add one very surprising absentee from any of the lists I consulted: Medioevo Romanzo. Less surprising, but of concern given the identity of one member of the Literature panel, is the absence of a reference to Olifant, a periodical specialising in studies of Romance epic.

I see two problems with the grading lists. The first is that there must be a strong suspicion that dissemination plays a large part in the grading, a factor which reflects more on the publishers and distributors of the periodicals than on the quality of research they publish. The second is that, whatever the advertised intentions of the organisers of the graded lists, the effect will be a series of self-fulfilling prophesies as more and more institutions insist that their staff “hit” the “big names” (i.e. the “A” graded periodicals), whether in the interests of REF or more insidiously as part of the promotions process. While it is undoubtedly utopian to look for the abandonment of graded listings, it s important that regular pressure is applied for regular renewal of panels, as well as regular reviewing of gradings so that the sort of hierarchical sclerosis does not set into our area, which is already taken for granted in so many parts of science, medicine and the social sciences.

William S. Brooks, Professor of French, University of Bath:

Like everyone else, I’m surprised by certain omissions and many of the scores. As to the scores, it is all very well for the introductory blurb to state:

As they stand, the lists are not a bibliometric tool for the evaluation of individual researchers. The distinction between the categories A, B and C is to be understood as being not primarily qualitative and the categorisation is determined by issues such as scope and audience as explained in the ERIH Guidelines. Thus, such categorizations of journals do not prejudge the scientific quality of individual articles that appear in those journals.
[End quote.]

The fact is that ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ will be understood in only one way by our funding masters, and the self-fulfilling aspect of the exercise, alluded to by Philip Bennett, is a clear danger. At the very least, this is the thin end of a wedge.
It must be as plain as a pikestaff that if my research is into eclectic verse forms in Martian literature I am going to rate the _Journal of Martian Studies_ as an ‘A’ and _Etudes théâtrales saturniennes_ as a no-no. But my colleague who works in theatre studies will have the opposite scale of values.
I strongly endorse Lucille Cairns’s letter and I agree with all the other contributions to the debate. (At least, so far.)

Floriane Place-Verghnes, Lecturer in French, University of Manchester:

Another message of support for everything that has been said so far and an addendum.

The ERIH website states that ‘it is intended that ERIH will be extended to include book-form publications and non-traditional formats’ but so far these lists seem to leave out key e-journals, presumably on the basis that they are not in a traditional format. A quick survey of the ‘Literature’ section reveals the gaping absence of robustly peer-reviewed journals such as (inter alia) “Dix-Neuf” (C19th French literature) and “Image and Narrative” (the latter being however included in the ‘Art’ section).

I fully take on board that these are ‘initial’ lists, but absences of this kind are not acceptable if e-publications are to be encouraged in a not-so-distant digital future marked by the increasing concern that is bookshelf space.

George Ferzoco, Research Fellow in Medieval Religious Culture, University of Bristol:

If any of you believe the ERIH system will work and be beneficial, then by all means contribute to it fully.

If, on the other hand, you believe that regardless of how much imput is provided, this system will inevitably be at the very least one more burden or at worst a pernicious tool, then why should anyone do anything other than protest against it?

See, for example, the letters at HES: DISC — Jorunal Ranking Exchange [Admin: see further below]. In particular, read what is stated there by Professor Frank James of the Royal Institution, London, and former President of the British Society for the History of Science:

‘I would like to conclude with the observation that for nearly 30 years we have lived under a regime that believed that these kind of evaluations, audits etc had a beneficial value despite the considerable evidence to the contrary. That regime is now bankrupt in all senses of the word and I see this as an opportunity to bring these exercises in controlling academia to a halt.’

I, for one, would be pleased if more learned associations followed this path. If we don’t, then we get precisely what we effectively ask for.

Pierre Larivée, Senior Lecturer in French Linguistics, Aston University:

I’m happy to say for general info that the newly formed University Council for Linguistics is preparing a letter to be sent by its President Paul Rowlett to the main UK para-governmental bodies. The more associations that press the ESF and UK bodies – HEFCE, AHRC, ESRC, Universities UK – the better.

History and Philosophy of Science – c/o aforementioned link at HES: DISC:

[…] may be interested in the latest contribution to the debate from Professor Frank James of the Royal Institution, London, former President of the British Society for the History of Science. It appeared on both the MERSENNE (UK history of science) and HOPOS (history of philosophy of science) discussion lists, and was in response to a message from P. Hurst of the Royal Society. Both the James and Hurst letters appear below.

Phil Hurst, The Royal Society (20 October 2008):
Subject: Journals under threat

Notes and Records of the Royal Society, has just published an editorial (see http://journals.royalsociety.org/content/x503128311743u02 for details) with text that has been agreed upon by the editors of over fifty journals of the history of science, technology, and medicine across the world. It is to appear in each of the journals as a protest against the European Science Foundation’s initiative for a European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH).

ERIH is an attempt to grade journals in the humanities including “history and philosophy of science”. The initiative proposes a league table of academic journals, with premier, second and third divisions. What is implied is: if research is published in a premier league journal it will be recognized as first rate; if it appears somewhere in the lower divisions, it will be rated (and not funded) accordingly.

The editors who have signed “journals under threat” believe that such a process is unnecessary and potentially damaging to the interests of scholarship. Along with many others in our field, Notes and Records has concluded that we want no part of this dangerous and misguided exercise.

What do you think of a “league table” of history of science journals?

Frank A.J L. James, Professor of the History of Science, The Royal Institution (22 October 2008)

Following on from Phil Hurst’s message earlier in the week […], I would like to further add that the British Society for the History of Science together with other learned societies (or subject associations as the AHRC like to call them) has been actively campaigning against the journal rankings being imposed by European Science Foundation. The rankings can be found at the rather long address pasted below. In a letter of 8 May 2008 that I wrote as President of the BSHS to Professor Philip Esler, chief executive of the AHRC (which purports to “champion” arts and humanities research in this country), I gave him details of a statistical analysis that I had undertaken on the list entitled “History and Philosophy of Science”.

I pointed out that of the 166 journals ranked in this list, 94 are in the area of History of Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine and Mathematics (HSTEMM), 67 in philosophy of science and 5 were general journals which are not especially connected with either the history or the philosophy of science, but which usually contain some material on the subjects. Of the 94 HSTEMM journals 14.4% were graded A while 27.6% of the 67 philosophy of science journals received the same grade. I asked whether AHRC endorsed the view that the overall quality of the philosophy of science journals was significantly superior to HSTEMM journals, but Esler refused to engage with this question. I also pointed out that those who compiled these rankings (listed below – none of whom are members of the BSHS) were entirely out of touch with the development of HSTEMM in recent years. I also noted my surprise that such a “forward looking and innovatory organisation” as the AHRC should support outdated disciplinary definitions. Again Esler, as champion of arts and humanities research in this country, chose not to engage with the issue.

In line with the editorial in more than 50 HSTEMM journals which has begun to be published, I urge the community to have nothing whatsoever to do with these rankings as it will only lead to the destruction of journals and restrict the free dissemination of the results of our collective scholarly endeavour.

I would like to conclude with the observation that for nearly 30 years we have lived under a regime that believed that these kind of evaluations, audits etc had a beneficial value despite the considerable evidence to the contrary. That regime is now bankrupt in all senses of the word and I see this as an opportunity to bring these exercises in controlling academia to a halt.

Please do feel free to forward this to other lists.

Frank James


These are the people responsible for drawing up the History and Philosophy of Science journal rankings:

Maria Carla Galavotti (Chair), Universitá di Bologna
Christopher Cullen, Needham Research Institute, Cambridge
Jaroslav Folta, National Technical Museum, Prague
Juho Sihvola, University of Helsinki


The rankings can be found at: [Admin: unfortunately, these links led to “access denied”. The “Initial Lists” can be found at: http://www.esf.org/research-areas/humanities/research-infrastructures-including-erih/erih-initial-lists.html .]

Please comment via our “have your say forum” at http://publishing.royalsociety.org/notes

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