E-publish or perish

mike salovesh (T20MXS1@NIU.BITNET)
Mon, 13 Jun 1994 18:59:00 CDT

John McReery said, in part, that his scheme of ratings would keep us
from being ". . . totally at the mercy
of the likes and dislikes of a few people (those nasty members of
the hiring/tenure committee) whose judgments of quality and relevance are
as idiosyncratic and, yes, politically motivated as any human being's
. . . . What matters is the possibility of using the
kind of data that might be useful and make it widely and easily

Then comes the question, how to use it. That's a judgment about "value" and
that, of course, means politics or, let's be crude, marketing. What you
gonna offer the guys who're sitting pretty in the current system that will
make them interested in change? This scheme I'm suggesting looks like it
(1) would make their own jobs easier, (2) be fairer than the local politics
of small committees, (3) have the side-benefit of mapping intellectual
movements in a way that might be intrinsically interesting...All right it's
only a beginning. Over to you.

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)"

John, I salute your intentions, but they fail to allow for the possi-
bility that some fairnesses are more equal than others. From where
I sit, people who have invested time in establishing the criteria by
which others will be judged have made use of their efforts to load
the dice in their own favor. That is, the reward structure gives the
highest rewards to those who are most like the people who set up the

Of course, nobody says that's what they're doing. Rationalizations
are always offered to demonstrate that THIS reward system will make
everything "fair". The more intrinsicly UNfair the system, the more
elaborate the rationalizations.

Once an allegedly "objective" system is in place, preferably one with
lots of numbers (whether the numbers mean anything or not), those who
benefit from it accumulate power to retain it. Eventually, their
rationalizations convince THEM, and they see any modifications to
their system as a "departure from objective standards". I have
learned to translate that phrase into "if you change things, then I
might have to compete with people who by any standards but the ones
we are using now would obviously be better than I am."

The law of libel keeps me from specifying what department or what
individual is involved, but I have seen a case where a junior faculty
member proposed an "objective", numerical rating standard based on a
series of arbitrary numbers just as soon as he had tenure. (To show
how arbitrary that set of standards was, let me cite its basic "unit"
which is the article published in a refereed journal, which counts
four points. A book counts ten points; a meeting paper counts one
point; a lengthy book review counts two points. These points are
then multiplied by an "audience" factor having to do with whether
the publication is regional or national in scope, and an "importance"
factor having to do with the prestige of journals and/or publishers.
Don't scream at me if you think this scheme is ridiculous: so do I.)

Once the scheme was adopted, on an experimental basis for a one-year
trial, it became the immovable object for twenty years. As it
happens, the guy who devised the plan is a fraud, professionally
speaking. He works in an area that is under-published, and editors
of general journals feel pushed to publish in that area to
maintain editorial balance. So the fraud's articles keep
getting published--despite print refutations to every major asser-
tion he's put in print. (God knows how his stuff gets past peer
review, since most of his peers in his field regard his stuff as
utter crap, according to what they say to each other--but NOT in
print.) As an active publisher in high-prestige journals, he gets
all the rewards the system has to offer. As a full professor today,
he can and does block any attempts to get rid of the ridiculous
scheme that got him where he is today.

John, you're much closer to the facts of the case when you cite the
politics involved. THAT is what evaluation systems are really about.
Yes, there are some people who should be dumped for total incompe-
tence in any department, and some of them actually are shown the
door. But the selection process that PRECEDES getting into the job
market is pretty severe. Getting all the way to a Ph.D. in anthro
means travelling a road that is paved with the bodies of hundreds who
set out on the same journey but never got there. Personnel evalua-
tions and hiring decisions are about marginal differentiations, not
about gross differences: if you can survive the Ph.D. process, you
come out pretty close to indistinguishable from anybody else who also
survived that process.

Why, then, do we play our games of constant re-evaluation of people
who already survived a severe selection process? Becauswe we are
dealing with the allocation of extremely scarce resources in a
process that is almost all POLITICS POLITICS POLITICS.

Salovesh's dictum applies: "In time of famine, the last ones to
starve are the cooks."

mike salovesh <t20mxs1@mvs.cso.niu.edu>