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.