THE VAGARIES OF JOURNAL RATINGS (AND HOW YOUR OWN WORK MAY CHANGE QUALITY WITHOUT YOU LIFTING A FINGER)

A colleague tells me that she’s very disappointed as a prestige journal where she published an article has now been demoted from the A list to the B list (in the ANECA check-lists, I think). She is really annoyed that when the time comes to pass her research assessment exercise this will affect her negatively. Her jewel in the crown is lost and this doesn’t make any sense to her (or myself), since her article remains unaltered. I tell about this to another friend, and he tells me that in his case it’s the opposite: a journal where he published recently an article has gone from B to A, which, of course, means also a gain for him although, logically, his article has not changed at all.

As a Literature teacher I’m well aware that the reputation of books changes throughout time, with very popular, even well respected authors meaning nothing to a later generation (I have just read, for instance, a blog review in which the author comments that since everyone has forgotten who Robert A. Heinlein was, he needs to point our he dominated SF between the 1960s and the 1980s – that’s how volatile fame is). Magazines of any kind are subject to the same vagaries. After all, everyone has forgotten where Edgar Allan Poe published his tales whereas the tales themselves stay in print. Something tells me, though, that academic journals should not suffer from the same kind of capricious fate since a change in their fortunes means, as you can see, a change in ours. This happens, as I have explained many times, because our articles are rated according to where we publish and not to what they do contribute to knowledge regardless of where they are published.

There’s really nothing much to add to this absurd state of matters and today’s post should perhaps end here. I’ll add, though, a few more comments.

The very efficient staff at the Humanities Library of my university have developed a very complete resource for those working on their accreditations: the website “Suport a l’acreditació i l’avaluació de la recerca” (https://www.bib.uab.cat/human/acreditacions/planes/publiques/index.php). If you have a rainy afternoon soon coming you might spend it comparing how the diverse Spanish agencies regard particular journals, citation databases and general resources (like Google Scholar). You’ll see this way the many incongruities we fight daily…

The other hot matter is the revision of ERIH’s criteria for the 2011 lists. Instead of the former A-B-C ratings, journals are now divided into two main categories, NATional (NAT), which refers to recognised “European publications… mostly linguistically circumscribed … occasionally cited outside the publishing country, though their main target group is the domestic academic community” and INTernational (INT), defined as “both European and non-European publications with an internationally recognised scholarly significance … regularly cited worldwide.” INT journals subdivide on the basis of “influence and scope” into INT1, influential “in the various research domains in different countries, regularly cited all over the world,” and INT2 “with significant visibility and influence in the various research domains in different countries.” I’m not sure I see much difference, as everyone knows that INT1 is A, INT2 is B and NAT is C even in their own countries. There is by the way, still no list for Cultural Studies. I’m happy to say there is one for Gender Studies, though much biased in favour of Feminist Studies.

An A-list journal accepts about 10% of the submissions it receives and, often, an article tailored to meet its requirements is very hard to recycle for another publication, as each has its specific rules and aims. Just imagine making it into the elite –ha, ha… – only to be told perhaps a couple of years later that your work is just run of the mill. How tempting, once more, to give in to temptation and self-publish…

2 thoughts on “THE VAGARIES OF JOURNAL RATINGS (AND HOW YOUR OWN WORK MAY CHANGE QUALITY WITHOUT YOU LIFTING A FINGER)

  1. “I can resist anything, except temptation…”
    … or words to that effect, Oscar Wilde said that. As for myself, apart from self-publication, I go in for international repositories such as the Social Science Research Network, where your work is not accepted or rejected (well, OK, it may be rejected if it is not an academic publication) but instead classified, selected for distribution by their own internal journals if the see it fit, and left to fend for itself and get visitors and readings. You choose your own citation style and you are not pestered by editors saying that your paper is 300 words too long or that you have not quoted some authority in the field or other. Although, of course, that won’t help you get through any ANECA or CNEAI evaluations.

  2. Yes, I’m also preparing part of my work for free-access publication in the repository of my own university. It’s slow work, as in some cases it’s not clear whether copyright is mine and where I published… And, yes, it’s not valid for assessment. A pity!

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