A while ago Mark Couch alerted me to an article by Jeffrey Di Leo in Inside Higher Ed. Di Leo’s thesis is this:
“It is one sign of the good health of the humanities that they have not caught rank and brand fever like many of the other disciplines in the American academy. Whereas one can readily find rankings of science or business journals, there is silence when it comes to rankings of humanities journals.”
Although Di Leo makes some good points–e.g., that it is difficult to rank together journals that specialize in different areas of philosophy and that good work may be published in lesser known journals–his main premise is completely backwards. Most surprisingly, his main example of a humanity discipline is philosophy!
I can’t speak about other humanities. But philosophers definitely do rank their journals (here is a recent example) and more importantly, they pay a lot of attention–sometimes too much attention–to where their work is published.
Contrary to what Di Leo argues or implies, my experiences suggests that by and large, within mainstream philosophy departments decisions about awards, grants, hires, and promotions are heavily influenced by where people publish. The “better” the journals where someone has published, the better her chances to be hired, promoted, and given grants or awards.
Ranking journals and paying so much attention to where someone publishes creates some distortions, of course. Where someone’s work is published is at best a coarse and somewhat unreliable measure of its quality, yet people often take that shortcut (which in many cases is a necessary shortcut for lack of time or expertise). Furthermore, acceptances at the best journals are almost certainly biased at least somewhat in favor of people who work at the best philosophy departments (in spite of double blind refereeing, where it is done).
Nevertheless, journal rankings are useful if used with the proverbial grain of salt. Publishing in, say, Phil Review doesn’t make anyone a genius, and publishing in the Journal of Inferior Philosophy doesn’t make anyone an inferior philosopher. But a journal will not be ranked high forever if its quality declines. Witness that many philsophers now consider J. Phil (which ten years ago was still considered #1 or at worst #2) as lower than Phil Review, Nous, and Philosophers’ Imprint. That being the case, whether a paper is published in a good journal is a very useful indicator of its likely quality–not to mention, of how many people will read and cite it.