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December 6, 2001

ON PUBLISHING/Robert Perloff It's not where, but what you publish that should count

There is scarcely any task more important for senior faculty to undertake than the evaluation of prospective new faculty and of current, junior faculty for retention, promotion or tenure. Maintaining high quality among the professoriate will ensure the continuity of excellence in our tripartite mission of teaching, research and service. Careful evaluations of these men and women will enable us with confidence and a high degree of comfort to pass on the torch to our successors.

One of the criteria used for foraging through this sensitive and essential, albeit sometimes tedious, procedure is to determine the quality of a person's publications. Very frequently, however, a surrogate for a thorough and judicious reading of a person's articles is the prestige of the journal in which the article is published. Articles in "A" journals are given greater weight in the evaluation process than those published in "B" or "C" journals. This deference to journal elitism is brought about by the time it takes to navigate through several articles as well as, in many cases, the absence of the necessary competence and knowledge on the part of the evaluators of a candidate's particular field; hence a reliance, very often, on the where, and not on the what. And more's the pity, because who among us has not seen that many heavily cited articles originally appeared in schlock journals and that many prosaic articles have been accepted for publication by high-profile journals?

My purpose here is to propose procedures for ameliorating this problematic state of affairs. The first suggestion for correcting the situation — whereby correcting I mean instituting the fairer and more relevant practice of placing appropriate weight on the article's content per se rather, oftentimes speciously, than on the journal in which the article appears — is one that, frankly, I have little expectation of adoption. I mention it, however, because hope springs eternal and I must confess to being somewhat of a Don Quixote. Department heads, deans and others should be encouraged to reward professors who read articles, word for word, idea for idea, by giving these readers some kind of credit, say a modest reduction in course load for every 25 or so articles they read in their entirety, read carefully, cogitate over adequately and evaluate judiciously. Another form of payment for the drudgery of reading articles for evaluation purposes would be to award points, or whatever the coin of the realm might be, for public service or service to the profession to professors who read their assigned quota of articles.

These suggestions made, however, I must say that the incentive that probably would have the greatest impact on inducing professors to read and evaluate these articles is cash, cold cash.

Now where would this cash come from? Since the reading of these articles is in effect a cost of doing our business, the money needed to award cash payments should be built into the department's or school's budget. Perhaps the candidate might be required to contribute to this kitty. Examples abound — licenses, examination fees, etc. — for asking an individual to contribute to the costs of executing a decision that he or she is seeking to achieve, a decision in the affirmative resulting in an improvement in the person's status, quality of life, prestige, sense of achievement, or what have you.

The crux of my contention is that in order to turn things around and to remove the frequently unfair and incorrect practice of judging a person's work by the elitism of the journal rather than by the intrinsic merit of his or her piece of work, an incentive must be in place for professors to faithfully and adequately read the candidate's work. There must be other incentives than those proposed here.

Too many good people are punished by the injudicious practice of weighing one's work by the journal in which it appears and probably, as well, many less worthy candidates are hired or elevated because of the flawed practice of worshipping at the throne of journal celebrity. It's high time for this unsatisfactory situation to be corrected. We owe it to ourselves, to our disciplines, to our professions, to the University and to our students to judge a person's work not by where he or she publishes but, rather, by what he or she publishes. n

Editor's note: Robert Perloff is Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of business administration and of psychology. His e-mail address is A version of this article first appeared in The Observer, a publication of the American Psychological Society, November 2001, Vol. 14, No. 9.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 8

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