Monday, May 30, 2011

ARC to Abolish Existing Journal Ranking System

The Australian Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Kim Carr put out apress release today describing changes to be made in the 2012 ERA research assessment exercise compared to the 2010 ERA. One of the changes is: "The refinement of the journal quality indicator to remove the prescriptive A*, A, B and C ranks". This follows consultation on changes to the ranking scheme. "The Australian Research Council (ARC) will use a refined journal quality indicator for ERA 2012." In other words:

"Evaluation committees will assess the appropriateness of the journals used as publication outlets for research, taking into account any regional or applied focus of the disciplinary unit concerned. For this purpose, evaluation committees will be presented with a profile of the journals (or other relevant publications) used most frequently by the unit under evaluation. The change empowers committee members to use their expert judgement to take account of nuances in publishing behaviour. This approach will allow experts to make judgements about the quality of journals in the context of each discipline.” said ARC CEO, Professor Margaret Sheil.

This is a further step away from quantitative assessment in disciplines such as economics, whereas I think they should move further towards quantitative assessment. On the other hand, this is likely to be a plus for institutions such as the College of Asia and the Pacific at ANU, which have a regional focus.

I think it is to some degree true that:

"There is clear and consistent evidence that the rankings were being deployed inappropriately within some quarters of the sector, in ways that could produce harmful outcomes, and based on a poor understanding of the actual role of the rankings. One common example was the setting of targets for publication in A and A* journals by institutional research managers.

In light of these two factors – that ERA could work perfectly well without the rankings, and that their existence was focussing ill-informed, undesirable behaviour in the management of research – I have made the decision to remove the rankings, based on the ARC’s expert advice."

I don't think that ANU has been overly prescriptive on this, but definitely there has been a feeling that we should try to avoid publishing in journals ranked B or C if possible. I have heard rumors that other universities were telling researchers that it was better not to publish than to publish in a B or C journal. This is diametrically opposed to the previous Australian tendency to publish lots of papers in low ranked journals.

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