Juking the academic stats – the ivory tower game explained.

Is it possible to be cynical enough?  That’s one of those questions I ask myself occasionally (daily/hourly) and usually when I begin to chide myself for corrosiveness, along comes confirmation/warning that I haven’t even got to cynicism basecamp.

The latest timely warning is “Ring a Ring  Roses: Quality Journals and Gamesmanship in Management Studies.”  This is an article by Stuart Macdonald and Jacqueline Kam, that appeared in the Journal of Management Studies (where else?) Journal of Management Studies 44:4 June 2007

Here’s the abstract

A paper in one of the quality journals of Management Studies is much more important as a unit of measurement than as a contribution to knowledge. It measures academic performance and determines much academic funding. There is consequently some pressure to publish in quality journals. But quality journals are defined in terms that are themselves defined in terms of quality journals – a circularity that explains both the paper’s title and the frustration of those who do not mix in these circles. We examine the gamesmanship of publishing in quality journals. Findings from a survey of heads of Management Studies departments in UK universities suggest that such gamesmanship is common. Cunning and calculation now support scholarship in Management Studies. Gamesmanship will remain common until the rewards for publishing attach to the content of papers, to what is published rather than where it is published. We propose a ‘Tinkerbell Solution’: without belief in the value of a paper in a quality journal, the game is no longer worth playing.

Before unleashing a bunch of quotes on you, with comments attached, you should definitely watch this 100 second clip from season 4 of The Wire;


(Soz, embedding disabled)

Poor Prebs. He thinks he’s left the game-playing-at-the-expense-of-the-stated-mission behind him when he left the Baltimore Police Department. But the game is omnipresent, omniscient. It stalks you … “Wherever you go, there you are.”

So, a sample of the quotes I loved

Rejection rate is also an important guide to quality in journals: the higher the rejection rate, the higher the quality….Only spoilsports will observe that the more authors are encouraged to submit their papers to quality journals, the higher will be the rejection rates of these journals, leading to an increase in their quality, yet greater incentive to submit papers, a higher rejection rate still, and yet more quality. Only cynics and statisticians will observe that as rejection rates rise past 90 per cent, the reliability of screening plummets (Miner, 2003).
(Macdonald and Kam, 2007: 642)


University departments play the game. Their managers encourage publication in quality journals because the return is great and because the measure of performance allows those who know nothing about a subject to judge the work of those who do…. In some French institutions, €12,000 is the going rate for a publication in a quality journal. In Australia, just about to introduce its own version of the RAE, there are similar enticements. Melbourne Business School pays $A15,000 cash for every paper published in the Top 40 list compiled by the Financial Times…. As these payments are per author rather than per paper, authors can bestow riches on favoured colleagues, presumably in return for similar favours. External authors get nothing so collaboration beyond the department is unwise. Cutting long papers into two or three, however, is logical. There is little incentive to write anything for practitioners. (emphasis added)
(Macdonald and Kam, 2007: 644)

Conspiracies against the laity, much?? Finally –

The canny editor cultivates a cadre of authors who will boost the measured quality of his journal, authors who cite themselves and each other, who dedicate swathes of their papers to reviewing past work, authors whose work is so anodyne and so generic that it can be cited almost anywhere.
(Macdonald and Kam, 2007: 645)

Recently the wife told me that I wasn’t a cynic, but rather a disappointed romantic (I shot back an unrepeatable joke that would get me sacked)

Next up – “games,” Wittgenstein and family resemblance


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