Journals under Threat

Under the headline ”Journals under Threat: A Joint Response from HSTM Editors” the editors of some of the leading international journals for history and philosophy of science and social studies of science have issued a joint declaration that I received by email and that I am reprinting here to give it a larger audience.

We live in an age of metrics. All around us, things are being standardized,
quantified, measured. Scholars concerned with the work of science and
technology must regard this as a fascinating and crucial practical,
cultural and intellectual phenomenon. Analysis of the roots and meaning
of metrics and metrology has been a preoccupation of much of the best work
in our field for the past quarter century at least. As practitioners of
interconnected disciplines that make up the field of science studies we
understand how significant, contingent and uncertain can be the process of
rendering nature and society in grades, classes and numbers. We now
confront a situation in which our own research work is being subjected to
putatively precise accountancy by arbitrary and unaccountable agencies.
Some may already be aware of the proposed European Reference Index for the
Humanities (ERIH), an initiative originating with the European Science
Foundation. The 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.
According to the European Science Foundation, ERIH “aims initially to
identify, and gain more visibility for, top-quality European Humanities
research published in academic journals in, potentially, all European
languages”. It is hoped “that ERIH will form the backbone of a
fully-fledged research information system for the Humanities”. What is
meant, however, is that ERIH will provide funding bodies and other
agencies in Europe and elsewhere with an allegedly exact measure of
research quality. In short, 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. This
initiative is entirely defective in conception and execution. Consider the
major issues of accountability and transparency. The process of producing
the graded list of journals in science studies was overseen by a
committee of four (the membership is currently listed at
.html). This committee cannot be considered representative. It was not
selected in consultation with any of the various disciplinary
organizations that currently represent our field such as the European
Association for the History of Medicine and Health, the Society for the
Social History of Medicine, the British Society for the History of
Science, the History of Science Society, the Philosophy of Science
Association, the Society for the History of Technology or the Society for
Social Studies of Science. Journal editors were only belatedly informed
of the process and its relevant criteria or asked to provide any
information regarding their publications.
No indication hgiven of the means through which the list was compiled; nor
how it might be maintained in the future. The ERIH depends on a
fundamental misunderstanding of conduct and publication of research in our
field, and in the humanities in general. Journals’ quality cannot be
separated from their contents and their review processes. Great research
may be published anywhere and in any language. Truly ground-breaking work
may be more likely to appear from marginal, dissident or unexpected
sources, rather than from a well-established and entrenched mainstream.
Our journals are various, heterogeneous and distinct. Some are aimed at a
broad, general and international readership, others are more specialized
in their content and implied audience. Their scope and readership say
nothing about the quality of their intellectual content. The ERIH, on the
other hand, confuses internationality with quality in a way that is
particularly prejudicial to specialist and non-English language journals.
In a recent report, the British Academy, with judicious understatement,
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” (Peer Review: the
Challenges for the Humanities and Social Sciences, September 2007: Such exercises as ERIH can
become self- fulfilling prophecies. If such measures as ERIH are adopted
as metrics by funding and other agencies, then many in our field will
conclude that they have little choice other than to limit their
publications to journals in the premier division. We will sustain fewer
journals, much less diversity and impoverish our discipline. 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.

The declaration is signed by:
* Neil Barton (Transactions of the Newcomen Society)
* Robert Fox (Notes & Records of the Royal Society)
* Michael Hoskin (Journal for the History of Astronomy)
* Nick Jardine (Studies in History and Philosophy of Science)
* Trevor Levere (Annals of Science)
* Bernie Lightman (Isis)
* Michael Lynch (Social Studies of Science)
* Peter Morris (Ambix)
* Iwan Rhys Morus (History of Science)
* Simon Schaffer (British Journal for the History of Science)

I would like a similar response in the biomedical field where everybody hunts for impact “we want no part of this dangerous and misguided exercise”.