Australia needs a real Academy of Social Sciences


I’m writing this post motivated  by, but not simply in response to, the recent Media Release of Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.  That release is unfortunately incoherent to me. Indeed, how can we have a conversation about the ERA when we are not convinced that we are part of the global community of scholars?

I am very sympathetic to the idea that contributions to local policy debates should be appreciated and I don’t think that the ERA 2010 did this. But  I’m less sympathetic to advocacy that entirely disregards global standards for measuring research performance and in turn disregards the contribution of science written for scientists.

We have already had a number of posts in this forum discussing the ERA. Joshua Gans raises an eyebrow regarding incentives, Rohan Pitchford points to academic protectionism, and in an earlier  post I express the view that it is unfortunate that the debate seems to have been politicised. Informed by the discussion surrounding these posts, I’m writing now to mainly highlight one of the hidden features in the debate.

You see, it takes time to develop the local knowledge to make an impact on local policy. So senior researchers who have been around the paddock a few times have some advantage in this regard. However, any method for measuring recent research performance that is consistent with international standards levels the playing field in favour of our junior colleagues. Indeed, publishing in leading journals is just as difficult for a junior researcher as it is for senior researchers. You don’t have to do your time, as it were, to publish in a top journal. That takes a great deal of innovation, concentration, hard work, and good taste; and whatever luck is associated with publishing well, at least for Australian based researchers, no amount  networking and social capital is going to perceptively increase one’s chances to have their work accepted for publication by even reasonable journals.

Looking around I see that much of the great research being done in economics in Australia is being done by our junior colleagues. Many of whom are publishing in the very best journals in economics and are developing tremendous international reputations as scholars. These people are spending the first decade of their career doing science for a global audience not only because that’s where they have a comparative advantage  but also because that’s why they became scientists in the first place.

Australia needs an academy of social sciences whose mission is to recognize scientists for outstanding contributions to science. An academy that sees itself as part of a global community of scientists and that engages that community in a serious way.  An academy that is not insular but open, an academy that is not separatist  but global, not protectionist but one that instead welcomes global competition. Australia needs an academy  that has a global perspective on achievements in science and affords scientific leadership that nurtures the tremendous junior talent in Australia.

The Media Release that I read today tells me that Australia desperately needs a real academy for social scientists.




12 Responses to "Australia needs a real Academy of Social Sciences"
  1. Social scientists have a lifecycle pattern to their work. Juniors want to publish in top global journals, which requires them to jump through some pretty high hoops and make an innovative contribution to knowledge in their field. After these efforts attention often turns to local policy. Hopefully by this stage the researcher
    appreciates the need for global focus of their
    younger peers, and encourages it. Instead we in
    Australia have a senior Academy that seems to
    think only of it’s *own* prestige. By denying
    juniors the recognition that their global work
    deserves, the Academy is stifling the very
    activity it should be encouraging. Perhaps an
    academy with a global focus needs to be formed
    to compete with this camarilla.

  2. The ERA is all about junior scientists and has limited impact on the activities of established scholars. So anyone thinking about the issue needs to address the impact on junior academics who in the main are best off trying to publish well.

  3. Who is claiming that Australia is not part of an international community of scholars? Who is disregarding global standards? You seem to stuck on the view that without ERA Australia is left behind – but have produced no evidence to support the idea that this would be case. 

    As far as I can see there are three academics who seem to believe that everyone else in Australia is out of step. 

    If the current Academy doesn’t suit your needs, why not start your own? Set your own standards, develop your own funding sources … oh wait.

  4. Make that four. I have to say I love how you and hc suddenly become every one else in Australia.

  5. Sinclair
    You just keep saying the same thing regarding evidence. We have repeatedly presented our arguments to you in the last three posts, so I don’t see much point in repeating them for a fourth time.

    You cannot claim that you, Harry and the AASS head represent “everyone else”. But even if you do, argument by numbers is one of the weakest in existence.

    The academic protectionists just keep squealing.

  6. Fifth time lucky?
    Sinclair. As academics we do not sell our ideas to customers as a way to evaluate our output. Instead we are evaluated by our peers. And you and others want to narrow that peer review down to a local protectionist cadre instead of the global community of academics…

  7. Rabee
    I’m wondering how junior academics are represented in ASSA…to the best of my knowledge they are excluded by definition….

  8. Rohan – you have not produced a single argument. Merely assertion. You assert protectionism but when I point out the margins of competition you say nothing. You assert that senior academics are earning rents, but when I ask for an example you say nothing. Your statements are vague and lack substance.

  9. It would be instructive for you to read our posts, Sinclair. As it stands, your playing the curmudgeon isn’t very helpful to anyone’s understanding of the issues.

  10. Rohan – I don’t understand what you are talking about and to be blunt, I suspect, neither do you. Let me finish off by quoting Paul Frijters

    ” The real losers from the recent change in the ERA are those who only look good on an A/A* publication schedule, but whose work is not cited, who have few grants, who teach small classes, who do little service, and who basically play no other game than the international publication game. And they do not really lose any of their reputation, but their desirability for institutions looking to do well in ERA rankings is slightly reduced, which might cost them some of their loadings.”

  11. Narkiness isn’t an argument and personal attack is even less so. I’m unimpressed with you lack if civility as I suspect many others are too.

    To avoid wasting everyone’s time I suggest we agree to disagree.

  12. Rohan – After you have engaged in all sorts of name calling (academic protectionism) and carried on about senior academics having a lot to lose (but can’t articulate anything) etc., you have a lot of nerve saying that I lack civility. But yes, let’s agree to disagree.

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