Monday, June 15, 2009

Ranking Journals in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

The editors of over 50 journals in the history of the science, technology, and medicine have published a joint editorial in their respective publications entitled, “Journals Under Threat: A Joint Response from History of Science, Technology and Medicine Editors,” in protest of the European Science Foundation’s (ESF) proposed European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH). The background for ERIH is described on the ESF web site as follows:

Anecdotally, it is widely assumed that much of Europe’s Humanities research is first class. However, it is not possible to easily gather or access empirical data to support this claim. Nor is it possible to compare Humanities excellence with other sciences. . . . Nevertheless, in the view of funding bodies such as the ERC, it is becoming increasingly important to identify and compare Humanities excellence at a supra-national European level.

ERIH intends to contribute to the creation of appropriate tools to achieve this and operates as a process led by academics for academics. At present, it is a reference index of the top journals in 15 areas of the Humanities, across the continent and beyond. It is intended that ERIH will be extended to include book-form publications and non-traditional formats, and will also form the backbone of a fully-fledged research information system for the Humanities. This would be the first step towards the development of a framework that will enable Humanities excellence to be assessed and verified.

The editors, however, assert that the ERIH “initiative is entirely defective in conception and execution.” The ESF has employed expert panels to rank humanities journals into three tiers (A, B, and C) as part of the initial lists for the index, and as noted in the joint editorial, journals in the History and Philosophy of Science were evaluated by a committee of four, which the editors state “cannot be considered representative.” They also cite the 2007 report by the British Academy, “Peer Review: The Challenges for the Humanities and Social Sciences,” that concludes that “the European Reference Index for the Humanities as presently conceived does not represent a reliable way in which metrics of peer-reviewed publications can be constructed.”

The editors make the following public demand:

Along with many others in our field, this journal has concluded that we want no part of this dangerous and misguided exercise. This joint Editorial is being published in journals across the fields of history of science and science studies as an expression of our collective dissent and our refusal to allow our field to be managed and appraised in this fashion. We have asked the compilers of the ERIH to remove our journals titles from their lists.

In response to the joint editorial, the ESF this month posted “The European Reference Index to the Humanities: A Reply to the Criticism,” an attempt at reconciliation which concludes:

ERIH is led by scholars for scholars and the feedback mechanism enables scholars to communicate their views directly to the Expert Panels, and to the Steering Committee. The feedback that is being submitted by individual scholars and scientists as well as by expert communities will have an important role in the updating of the “Initial Lists”. In full recognition of the early stage of the process, and the shortcomings of the present version of the ERIH, we would like to ask the editors of journals to reconsider their decision not to contribute to the process, and to let the project benefit from their critique and comments.

Among the journals participating in the joint editorial are the Bulletin of the History of Medicine (the organ of the American Association for the History of Medicine), Medical History, Social History of Medicine, Early Science and Medicine, and dozens of others.

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