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Empirical Legal Research in Action

Reflections on Methods and their Applications

Edited by Willem H. van Boom, Pieter Desmet and Peter Mascini

Empirical legal research is a growing field of academic expertise, yet lawyers are not always familiar with the possibilities and limitations of the available methods. Empirical Legal Research in Action presents readers with first-hand experiences of empirical research on law and legal issues.
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The way forward

Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences

Imad A. Moosa

The way forward is to abandon the POP culture, which is a product of neoliberal market ideology according to which universities should be held accountable for the amount of scholarly output they produce, as measured by the quantity and quality of publications. According to this ideology, universities should be run like private enterprises because the provision of private goods, such as education, should be governed by the market mechanism. The implication here is that universities should be left on their own, without public funding, and that they must generate income from teaching, automated or otherwise, and from contract research. In this case, academic staff will be under pressure to bring students or perish (for the teaching staff) and bring in research money or perish (for the research staff). The way forward is to go back to days gone by, prior to the emergence of the destructive ideas associated with Reaganism-Thatcherism.

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The ranking craze: From journals to universities and departments

Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences

Imad A. Moosa

The journal ranking craze has become international, spreading worldwide in the spirit of globalization. Journal ranking is the means to a big end, that of ranking universities, departments and disciplines for the purpose of allocating scarce funds. The link between research evaluation and journal ranking is that journal ranking is central to the evaluation of research. According to the OECD, 13 countries have been identified as using systems of ex post research output evaluation for the purpose of determining the distribution of government funding. These countries have been following the lead of the U.K., where research evaluation started in 1986 under the auspices of the Thatcher government. The overall range of indicators used by other countries is similar, but various combinations and weightings are employed.

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Publish or perish: Origin and perceived benefits

Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences

Imad A. Moosa

‘Publish or perish’ (POP) is a phrase that describes the pressure put on academics to publish in scholarly journals rapidly and continually as a condition for employment (finding a job), promotion, and even maintaining one’s job. POP may be advocated on the grounds that a good track record in publications draws attention to the authors and their institutions, which can facilitate continued funding and the progress of the authors themselves. However, the POP culture also brings with it unintended adverse consequences that outweigh any perceived benefits. There is no consensus view on who actually coined the term ‘publish or perish’. The rise of the POP culture can be attributed primarily to the attitude of governments that look at higher education as a cost, not an investment, or those believing that it is not their job to fund education.

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Publish or Perish

Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences

Imad A. Moosa

Imad Moosa’s thought-provoking book explores the contemporary doctrine that plagues the academic sphere: the principle of publish or perish. This book identifies the pressures placed upon academics to either publish their work regularly, or suffer the consequences, including lack of promotion, or even redundancy.
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The peer-review process

Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences

Imad A. Moosa

Peer review, which determines what does and does not get published, is so problematical that alternatives are being sought. Because of the problems associated with the process, journal ranking is too problematical to be useful. Peer review, which can be described as a stochastic process, has so many shortcomings, including methodological and ideological bias, bias against new ideas, confirmation bias, obsession with finding faults, reckless and dishonest practices, referee incompetence, lack of scrutiny, and delays. Several alternatives to the current per review practices have been suggested, including the cascading and portable peer review models. For all the problems associated with the practice, looking for alternatives to peer review is a matter that is taken seriously.

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Other approaches to a hazardous endeavour

Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences

Imad A. Moosa

Alternatives to the citation-based approach to journal ranking include the opinion-based approach, the frequency of downloads approach, and the subscription-based approach (market-based ranking). The opinion-based approach can be distinguished from other approaches because the other three provide quantifiable measures of journal quality or impact and because it is least objective and most subjective. It is also the most expensive because administering a survey is costly when the data required for journal ranking by citations, downloads and subscriptions are available free of charge. The debate seems to be about how journals are ranked when it should be about whether or not journals should be ranked. At least three problems make journal ranking a hazardous endeavour.

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Journal ranking schemes

Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences

Imad A. Moosa

Journal ranking lists may be constructed by government bodies (such as the Australian Research Council), joint ventures (such as the Australian Business Deans Council and the British Chartered Association of Business Schools), as well as societies, universities and even departments within universities. The construction of these lists is costly while they are potentially harmful. Three explanations can be put forward for why the production of journal ranking lists is a thriving industry, despite the problems associated with these lists: (1) the administration of journal lists and the pressure put on academics to comply create jobs for people who would otherwise have no jobs; (2) it is easier to check each item against a list to reach the conclusion that the output is good or bad, than evaluating research output on its own merits by reading the material; and (3) any harmful enterprise has its own beneficiaries who want to maintain the status quo.

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Consequences of POP: The journal industry and authorship pattern

Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences

Imad A. Moosa

The POP culture has led to a rapid growth in the journal industry, which has become an oligopolistic market, and changed authorship patterns away from single-author papers. The proliferation of scholarly journals, resulting from the POP culture, is disproportional to the growth in human knowledge. The rise of predatory journals is also a consequence of POP. The proliferation of journals, predatory or otherwise, has led to a rapidly declining quality of published research. Other related consequences of the POP culture are the growth of parasitic activities, such as the organization of low-quality conferences, and the rise of elitism and class structure in academia. POP has brought with it the fractional author, as papers with a large number of authors have become the norm.

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Consequences of POP: Research quality and dissemination of knowledge

Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences

Imad A. Moosa

A consequence of the POP culture has been the proliferation of published research at a rate that is disproportional to the advancement of human knowledge. However, most of the published work goes unnoticed even by fellow academics. The POP culture has adverse consequences for the quality of published research, and it impedes the discovery process. Furthermore, the POP culture Slows down the dissemination of knowledge, drives a wedge between published research and reality, makes research findings unreliable and biased, and introduces bias against research from developing and non-English speaking countries and against non-article publications. POP also has an adverse effect on non-research activities, including teaching and community service.