American Football and the ABS Journal Quality Guide

27 02 2015

2006_Pro_Bowl_tackle

The article in the Times Higher Education supplement about the release of the ABS journal rankings has generated some interesting online discussion.

The Association of Business Schools’ Academic Journal Guide 2015assesses the quality of 1,401 business and management publications worldwide, based on citation scores and the judgements of leading researchers. 

It is designed to help academics to make decisions about where they should seek to have their work published and to help deans to evaluate performance.

But some scholars complain that the guide has become too powerful in decisions on recruitment, promotion and salary review, and that as a consequence they are assessed only on where they publish, not what they publish.

The first person to comment on this article is Bill Cooke, Professor of Strategy at the University of York Management School. He argues that the new guide will contribute to the Americanization of the research culture of UK business schools.

This list “aimed to provide scholars with clear goalposts against which to aim for in seeking to progress their careers”.

But you better be playing American Football, because this is simply a list of US journals. In my subdisciplines, in the journals ranked, the work is conservative, narrow, and parochial to the United States. People had better not believe the playing field is level, either. The normal institutional biases, let alone positive discrimination, tilt play in favour of the US scholar. The paper you’ve written and want someone to read informally. Your reader down the corridor or you bump into at a local seminar in THE-land is not going to be the editor of any of these journals, is he. Yes, he (nice, and appropriate pic btw).

The Association of Business Schools is now trying to face in two directions at once. It is sending the message, firstly, that if you are ‘seeking to progress [your] career’ you should publish in these US journals.

At the same time management scholars are told, rightly, and not least by the ABS that they need to have a strong concern for ‘impact’ in the REF sense – for material changes in the real world. Well, intuitively, research that gets published in these 4* journals will by definition have to be the opposite of impactful.

(I make these comments in a personal capacity, and not in my capacity as Vice Chair Research and Publications of the British Academy of Management).

I think that Professor Cooke is right about this. The creators of the ABS guide are to be commended for overcoming nationalistic passions and automatically giving more points to British journals simply because they are British. However, it maybe that they have gone too far in the opposite direction and have rewarded US journals that are nationally insular but which nevertheless have high citation counts simply because of the sheer size of the United States.

A better, but more complicated, method for measuring whether a journal has a truly global impact would be to look at both absolute citations and citation-miles, based on the mean distance between the author’s place of employment and the employers of the authors who cite a given paper.  Under this scenario, a journal by a New York City academic that is frequently cited by other academics who all work in New York would get a lower ranking than a journal with a similar number of citations by authors on different continents.

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