Friday, 3 October 2008

Academics attack EU meddling

The following can be found on the UKIP website:

Academics attack EU meddling

UKIP MEP John Whittaker has backed a protest by academics against a "flawed" EU attempt to create league tables of academic journals.

The editors of 45 journals have published a joint editorial condemning an EU-sponsored proposal to rank their journals according to perceived quality.

"It is very unusual for leading academics to make such a public show of disapproval," said Dr Whittaker, "but when they see that academic freedom is threatened it is heartening that they are prepared to make such a stand."

The joint editorial, headed "Journals under threat: A joint response from history of science, technology and medicine editors", denounces the European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH) as being "entirely defective in conception and execution".

Dr Whittaker, Euro MP for the North West of England and a lecturer at Lancaster University, said: "The danger is that by setting up league tables, credibility and funding will naturally gravitate towards the so-called first division titles. Of course in the field of academic endeavour it is often the smaller publications that publish the most valuable research."

The editorial criticises the ERIH as depending 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."

Dr Whittaker commented: "Anybody interested in the growth of human knowledge must support them in their campaign."
Quite often sensible and mainstream ideas come from unexpected places and not what is generally considered a sensible or mainstream source.  I remember being told about a speech the Northern Irish university lecturer in politics, Arthur Aughey, gave to a Campaign for an English Parliament conference.  He asked attendees which political party first came up with the idea of legalising commercial radio, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 and allowing pubs to open 24 hours a day.  There was universal astonishment to learn that they were first proposed by the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Sensible ideas often come from unexpected places and as John Whittaker rightly says, those academic publications that could be considered to be on the fringe will find a poor ranking makes their viability very difficult.  Of course, the less academic publications there are the easier they will be to control ...