Saturday, June 8, 2013

Part 4 - Journal Rankings in a Non-Sleazy Sense

Ok, so the end of the semester crunch created a sizable gap between the last post and this final post in my 4-part series on how to approach the phenomenon of journal rankings in the humanities without feeling like a mercenary sleazeball. Sorry for the layoff; you may want to breeze back through the previous 3 short posts on how I first became interested in this topic, the fundamentals of the h-index for individual scholars, and the function of the h5-index for journals.

The central idea of this post is that there is a non-sleazy way in which journal rankings can matter to the humanities scholar. That is, there is a sense in which you can be concerned with things like how high a particular journal is ranked, without feeling like, or literally being, someone who just wants to be a "rock star," if such a thing is even possible in the humanities!

Here's the idea: As scholars we are part of a community that is ideally committed to critical inquiry, the search for truth, and training others to become innovative and ethical thinkers in their own rights. And to be a part of any community there are certain ideas, documents, problems that we should all be familiar with. After all, the things we share in common are what make us a community, even if we disagree about those things. Thus, journal rankings can be a genuine path to gauging what are the ideas, documents, problems that our community is valuing, questioning, engaging at any moment.

Case study: My field is American literary studies. When I click on Google Scholar's metrics and then click on "Humanities, Literature, & Arts" on the left-hand side, I can then open up the "subcategories" and click on "American Literature & Studies." Doing so will reveal a list of journals ranked according to their h5-indexes, and I can see that American Literary History has both the highest h5-index and the highest h5-median in my field of professional study. Knowing that this journal is vital to my field, I click on it and see that Richard Gray's 2009 article "Open Doors, Closed Minds: American Prose Writing At a Time of Crisis" is perhaps the most-cited article in my entire field. Don't I have at least somewhat of an obligation to know what the article is about, if not to read it in its entirety?

So, my goal in understanding journal rankings is not simply to try to place my work in the most prestigious journals and "get my name out there," but to be up-to-speed and engaged with good faith in my community. I have an ethical obligation to contribute and to listen to others. Now, does that mean that if you want to submit to American Literary History that you're some kind of recognition-seeker in a sleazy way? NO!! Perhaps it just means that you want to engage with what our community has deemed some of the most important questions/ideas in the field right now. Perhaps you want to shape our field of study!

Of course, we could be more skeptical about the entire enterprise, but why not approach it as a meaningful way of understanding and contributing to our community?