Journals, Rankings, and Publishing

Posted by Lawrence Bowdish, community karma 347

When my friends in the natural sciences talk about academic journals, they can easily spout off the top journals (Science, Nature), and the top journals in their subfields (I do not really pay attention when my friends are speaking, so I do not have any handy examples of that).  I think there might be something similar, though perhaps not as strong, for social science journals--ways to rank or sort journals by their impact or their prestige.  I do not think this exists for the Humanities.  There are top journals, and a miasma of everything else, without any sort of rhyme or reason.

This came up the other day as I was talking to a historian, who is the only historian at a branch campus of a large state university system.  That branch campus concentrates on agriculture and technical skills, and has many more "instructors" teaching courses instead of doctorate-level professors because of the structure and goals of the campus.

To gain tenure, he is expected to publish 6 articles in 6-7 years.  I first thought, as a historian, that this was strange.  No book?  Besides, producing a good article every year is a tall order for historians who spend their time sitting in dark lounges wearing corduroy jackets with patches on their elbows.

But then, he suggested that *any* academic publications counted, be it a small State Historical Society journal, or the Journal of American History.  Then, it made even less sense to me.

is there a more nuanced Humanities journals ranking that I am unaware of?  Does it make sense that *any* publications count--I know that is definitely not true at Research 1 level institutions?  Should we be insistent that we publish any and everything, or should we do better, especially in the humanities, with prizing quality over quantity?



Will Hauser, community karma 227

Lawrence, you've got several really interesting questions nested in there.  

I can't speak to humanities but I am in the social sciences (criminology) and I can say that in our field scholarls definitely know who the best journals are.  But there is debate and I strongly suspect that while the same seven or so journals would account for almost everyone's "top five" the actual order of the rankings would show considerable variability.  


Everyone also knows that some content is not well received at journal x but is well suited for journal y.  For example, theoretical works belong in Theoretical Criminology and articles using cutting edge statistical methods do well in Journal of Quantitative Criminology - and an article from one would surely not be well received in the other.  


Occassionally we see updated impact scores or prestige ratings (or a scheme for combining them and some additional metrics) and people have their reasons for preferring one to the other.  I'm not sure what to make of the ranking systems.  They do tell us something but I think the temption to read too far into them is strong.  I suppose the rankings are something like the (in)famous Intelligence Quotient - it tells us something about intelligence, but what exactly we're not sure.  Moreover, it's a crude ordinal measure yet we still insist on making stupid assertions like a score of 100 is twice as good as a score of 50 (or a score of 128 is better than 127 - they are indistinguishable).  So I guess I'm saying that the rankings are useful, to an extent, lest we put too much stock into them.


As to exactly what it means to "publish or perish," it must vary by field and by institution.  In my field, some small private schools put zero stock in publications, obtaining a job there is entirely a consequence of prior teaching experience and their expectations of you are that you will teach (a lot).  Other places are more balanced, and then we have the Research 1 institutions which expect a consistent output of several - say 3 or more - articles a year.  By the way, that designation - "research 1" technically no longer exists; the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education did away with that in 2000.


Books are nice but I've been told by professors in my department that quality peer reviewed journal articles are actually better because they are peer reviewed.  And for the effort that goes into a book, a good writer could crank out several articles.  Since the choice is more like 1 book vs. 3 or 5 journal articles, I think the articles are a better use of effort.


Obviously, quality matters.  Not every article has to be (or can be) a landmark one but I can say that I've seen colleagues go on the job market with several publications in mediocre journals and have difficulty getting a job.  Applicants with fewer but better publications seem to fare better.  Of course, I don't know how well these people performed at their interviews, the job market is always changing, and they weren't applying for the same jobs anyway... so take these annecdotes with a grain of salt.

almost 12 years ago
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Danielle Wallace, community karma 145

I can only recount my experience in the criminology field. As an assistant professor, I am expected to publish two articles a year in our top 7 journals. Without that, no tenure. We rank our journals not exclusively by field respect, but by impact factor. Ideally, you want to be in the best journals that are viewed and cited by multiple people in a wide variety of disciplines.

Various fields have their quality over quantity debate. But I'm going to say that while fields have their preferences, universities are perhaps more important in shaping that debate - meaning, you need to do what they want to get tenure and to get a job. When getting hired, your record is evidence that you can publish, or publish well etc...Depending what a school wants -- lots of pubs or heavy hitters -- your CV should look a particular way. At ASU, where I am, it's both. Which, as I'm sure you can guess, is hard.  But, I think from what I see as far as getting hired, a good good pub is worth more than several shite pubs. But, once you're hired, you're on their rules, whatever they may be. There really is no field standard.

almost 12 years ago
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J. Doomen, community karma 117

The following websites should provide the information you are looking for:


(psychology journals);

2. (philosophy journals).

Similar lists exist for fields such as anthropology and linguistics.

These lists do not constitute the decisive judgment, but they are useful aids.

over 11 years ago
Thanks, those are very useful aids. I'm sure other people combing these questions will also find these links useful.
Rob Walsh – over 11 years ago
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