ERIH vs. ISI (What’s best for the Humanities?)

As ISI was chiefly meant to meet the needs of the community of exact scientists (and mainly from the US), its relevance to the Humanities, especially in Europe, is undoubtedly problematic. Many of the old, respected European journals from countries such as Italy, for instance, are probably not even planning to apply to ISI… Studi medievali? How about Belgium’s venerable Analecta Bollandiana? Not a chance. Moreover, I am almost sure that the ISI severity as to the actual publication process will not allow them to be accepted. Different standards for two different worlds, basically English and non-English?

The European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH) is an attempt (started 2007) to overcome the ISI bias towards US/English journals and recognize the value of those (peer-reviewed or less so) journals that are being published in the main international languages, English included, in Europe. ERIH ‘Initial’ lists:

This first attempt raises a number of problems:

  • Too few scholars were appointed to grant these qualifications. A fair assessment, that should not possibly reflect their own personal scientific interests, would require that a larger number of scholars be involved (this can be obviously easily corrected);
  • US bias may actually still be an issue, since nearly all American journals are given an A (perhaps as a genuine mark of greatness or, possibly, just as an attempt to avoid an anti-American label);
  • The difference between A and B (as more or less widely received publications) is not clearly supported by evidence as it should be (e.g. after counting references to these journals, admittedly not an easy task at this time);
  • The C category should be clearly noted as local, while being acknowledged similar as to its quality to A or B;
  • The fact that a journal is given different qualifications in different sections, purposely reflecting the impact in different fields (e.g. Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique gets an A in ‘History’, but a B in ‘Religious Studies and Theology’) can be helpful, but can also be disconcerting in a time where scholars tend to work at the crossroads of several disciplines. How about a single, all-comprising list?
  • While the ISI system asks for e.g. 1) peer reviewing and 2) no significant delay of publication (both are problems in Europe, at least the larger Europe), ERIH seems to close its eyes on such shortcomings, at least for the moment. Is that fair? For now, I think it is. However, those rigorous requirements should become the norm for the near future in Europe, too. Especially the peer-reviewing, as it is not money consuming or anything. The second requirement will, I’m afraid, continue to be an unavoidable problem, esp. in the developing European countries, therefore will necessarily ask for a certain level of understanding and disregarding.
  • General Concern: will the ‘liberation’ of the ISI ‘tyranny’ lead to a nice balance or will, instead, create a ‘competition/division’ between the more English-oriented and the more European-oriented research in the Humanities? Will it be basically, if it’s not already, only a matter of local pride?
  • Should these tentative, unpolished ERIH lists be used already as indicative of academic excellence when offering grants?

Early updated versions of the ERIH lists are expected, with the 2008 coming soon. Europeans or less so, we need to keep an eye on this.

Disciplines: Anthropology; Archaeology; Art, Architectural and Design History; Classical Studies; Gender Studies; History; History and Philosophy of Science; Linguistics; Literature; Musicology; Paedagogical and Educational research; Philosophy; Psychology; Religious Studies and Theology.


Links: The UK, sharing with the US the language and with Europe a few other things, is unsurprisingly a leader in criticising ERIH. See this page of the Research Council, which included minutes of a dedicated February meeting. This brief assessment from the British Academy makes an interesting reading. See also comment by an American in Europe:

Romania *in romaneste despre tirania ISI: Alexander Baumgarten, Viaţa formularelor ISI./// *Ad-Astra „noastra” a militat puternic pentru ISI, din motive evidente si foarte bune (in principal pentru dorita transparenta). Ma intreb daca vor avea deschiderea necesara sa compare si, in definitiv, sa recunoasca necesitatea unei alternative pentru studiile umaniste (initiatorii fiind, daca nu ma insel, in marea lor majoritate oameni din stiintele exacte). O discutie citita pe sait intre unul dintre initiatori si dna Zoe Petre a fost un pas interesant in aceasta directie. Sper la o continuare, care poate ca exista, insa de care nu am cunostinta.


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