The Glaciers That Don’t Melt

I was looking at the ABS website earlier (everyone needs a hobby). I came across this interesting little phrase: ‘The ABS Executive Committee has decided that no new version of the ABS Academic Journal Quality Guide will be issued before the REF 2014 results are published’ (

Given that the last list was published in 2010, and the version prior to that was published in 2009, we might wonder why there’s such a gap now.

Are the ABS Executive telling us that they have done an analysis and, unlike the gap between 2009 and 2010 when things changed drastically, there’s nothing new to report? (If this is the case, why not just release the updated list anyway). Or that they have done whatever it is they do to create the list and things have changed but they don’t want people to know? Or that they don’t think it’s worthwhile looking to see what’s happened since 2010?

Given the widely acknowledged use of the ABS list by university administrators and research directors in preparation for the REF, is this really the time for the ABS list to take this kind of decision? Indeed, given the widespread critique of the ABS list since 2010 could they not find ways to improve their methods and respond to the critics?

Explain yourself ABS Executive!

Personally, I’m generally sympathetic to the ABS and pity them for the use of the List.  Prof Rowlinson describes his motivations for working on the ABS List and you can’t help but think he makes a lot of sense.  But this kind of arbitrary unexplained decision totally undermines their claims for objectivity.

I suspect that what’s really going on here is that they know full well that a new list would discredit ways the ABS List is used in the real world even if it would actually make it more useful.  And that the kinds of people who like the ABS List in its current form might not like it to be revised for fear of no longer being a four star man/woman.  … Which is obviously pathetic.

5 thoughts on “The Glaciers That Don’t Melt

  1. Interestingly, the same webpage has an announcement dated 15/12/11, saying:
    ‘The Association of Business Schools plans to publish a newly titled Guide to Academic Journal Quality in collaboration with a partner organisation. This will replace The ABS Academic Journal Quality Guide version 4’. For some reason they’ve changed their mind and either can’t be bothered to moderate their webpage properly or they want us to ask questions.

  2. Drilling down a bit more, the ABS says in their Introduction to the 2010 guide that the list should allow journals to “languish in the reputational foothills” or “rise quickly through the ranks”. If this is their intention, why not produce a new list for at least 4 years? How does this decision help meet this objective?

    Here’s the quote in context:

    ‘The fates of individual academics and publishers are intimately bound together. As the number of journal titles has multiplied, the search for distinction and high status by way of citation impact factors and quality rankings has intensified. Authors wish to publish in the “best” journals, such as those in the 4 and 3 grades in the ABS Guide, as publication in these journals confers greater status (and ultimately career) rewards than publication in journals lower down the pecking order. The academic journals market is both hotly contested and highly stratified. The fact is that there are many hundreds of business and management journals in the 2 and 1 grades of the ABS Guide. It follows that for publishers status and reputation are keenly sought after. The more high ranking journals in an “academic stable”, the greater the ultimate financial rewards are likely to be. Certainly, there are other factors bearing upon profitability, but, ceteris paribus, it is much better in the long run for publishers to be associated with journals that confer high status upon their contributors. In the competitive struggle, it pays to attract academic editors, members of editorial boards, and contributors of high academic distinction. The fate of the majority of journals may be to languish in the reputational foothills, but a minority, blessed with strong credentials, clever strategies and broad market appeal, will rise quickly though the ranks to become high status, high reputation publications.’

  3. Speaking language of business rather than scholarship! Such a great case to discuss performativity, scholarship and ranking ideology….

  4. Today I had a look at an article on the ABS List by the ABS List Editors (2009)( Again it argues that the value of the list is, at least in part, dervied from providing a regular barometer:

    ‘It is expected that by repeating this process on an annual basis that the field of business and management will gain a progressively more consensual understanding of relative journal rankings and through this process will also gain a better sense of itself, its relationships with other fields, and its links to publications in the UK and overseas.’ (p. 7)

    So the ABS editors think that a regular list is good because it will promote consensus. Based on this, is one to infer that the ABS editors expect that not publishing the list on an annual basis will provoide less consensus? Moreover, is one to infer that consensus is what the ABS List is all about?

    It’s interesting to cross reference this with their claim in the 2010 report (quoted above) that regularly revisions of the list allows for movement up and down the list. I don’t think you can call this consensus building. It’s more concerned with mapping the state of journals in relation to one another. Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that they have decided not to publish a new list – even if it undermines the previous logics for promoting the list. Now it is THE LIST, consensus is achieved by not producing a new list.

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