|Any "I" Monsters Hiding Under Your Bed?
I was in Taiwan last month, I gave a talk to folks at a seminar for the
National Science Council (NRC) Research. My talk was titled, “A Mixed Methods Look at Self-Directed Online Learning: MOOCs, Open Education, and Beyond” (Note: I gave 13 talks when in Taiwan over a 2 week span.) The event was held at
National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei. NTU is the top university in
Taiwan. It was my second time speaking there; the first was in July 2005. It is
a very lovely university to visit and on my recommended list of places to visit
when in Taiwan.
good friend, Dr. Hsiu-Ping Yueh invited me to speak at this event. She wanted
me to talk about my research on MOOCs and open education. She noted that many
in attendance would also be interested in hearing my views about SSCI (Social Science Citation Index). I said sure and remembered that people in Taiwan (as
well as China and Korea) tend to use SSCI for promotion and tenure as well as
bonuses and other academic distinctions. It seems that universities in East
Asia increasingly utilize SSCI as a means of denoting status and success. They
seek to increase their university rankings and see SSCI publications as a key
means for accomplishing it. So I decided to allocate part of my talk to: “The Pros and Cons
of Using SSCI (Social Science Citation Index) in Taiwan.” There definitely was much interest in this talk and topic.
Still, I had to remind myself that I had only an hour scheduled for my keynote
talk on “MOOCs and open education” and Q&A and other my notes on SSCI. One
hour…that was it. When I was done with my keynote, there were about 5-10
minutes that remained for me to discuss my ideas about SSCI.
I did the best that I could. Before arriving at NTU, I interviewed
people whom I met during the previous week in Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Hsinchu
for their views on the intense focus on SSCI in Taiwan and East Asia. I talked
to graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, faculty members (both new
professors as well as senior ones), researchers, academic staff, faculty
spouses, and others. Quite a few people were quite willing to tell me what was
on their mind. I took notes and read from a summary of those notes for those
final 5 or 10 minutes of my talk when at NTU.
This was not as easy as it sounds. Most of my notes were chicken
scratch since my handwriting is terrible. Fortunately, I had 90 minutes on the
bullet train that morning when coming up from Kaohsiung in the south to read and
reread through these notes. During this time, I rewrote some of these ideas and
reorganized my list. (Note that I brought these notes back home with me and
they sat on my desk at home for over a month now. In fact, I am using them for
this blog post and pro and con lists below.)
I should also mention that the talk was well received. Many people
in the audience came up after it to agree with or add to several points I made.
Some wanted to simply chat about SSCI in general. Several others sent me
positive email comments later that day or week. One person later pointed out that the "I" monster in Taiwan not only includes SSCI but also SCI (Science Citation Index) and A&HCI (i.e., Arts & Humanities Citation Index). This individual thought that there were huge losses from playing the "I" game. In particular, this person stated that this three-headed "I" monster or beast "has totally slayed Taiwan's merit and value system for Taiwanese scholars and professors." He/she also argued that the higher education system in Taiwan has definitely not benefitted one ounce from such a system. In fact, just the opposite has happened from his/her perspective. As this person put it:
universities even have adopted an “I” point system, i.e., the promotion and
merit of a professor are based on the number of points accumulated by
publishing a certain number of “I” articles. One very “strange” requirement in
Taiwan’s academia is that a doctoral student is not able to graduate without
accumulating enough “I” points. Some public universities even set a certain
number of “I” publications or points as their main Ph.D. candidacy requirement.
In this way, the doctoral students in Taiwan, in effect, become “I” slaves,
working for their “I” professors. Similarly, there are some public universities
which accordingly entitle “distinguished” or “chair” professors with salary
raises using the tax payer’s money based on “I” points.”
By the way, when I was in Taiwan last month, I was told by several senior professors who were not participating in the “I” club that the higher education system in Taiwan has become an “I” system. This “I” system has been breeding more and more “I” monsters that need to be slaughtered. Instead, it is the 160 or so universities located on that small “I”sland that are being strangled. Remember those scare tactics in “Monster University.” That was funny…but, as I found out, this situation is not.
I am willing to bet that my colleagues in Korea and China might have similar remarks about all their "I" (SSCI, SCI, and A&HCI) monsters hiding under their beds and in their closets.
As you will see, during my brief talk, I mentioned 12 pros and 27
cons of the use of SSCI publications (and SCI and A&HCI ones) as a measure of researcher productivity in
Taiwan. Keep in mind as you peruse the list below that I am not an SSCI expert
nor do I ever plan to be. Nevertheless, many of my current and former students
like to publish in SSCI journals in my field (e.g., The Internet and Higher Education, Educational Technology Research and Development (ETR&D), Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Computers and Education: An International Journal, Journal of Educational Technology and Society, the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET), Interactive Learning Environments, etc.). I am sure that I am forgetting a few really popular ones. The SSCI list is searchable. So is my list of educational technology and e-learning journals and magazines.
As I mentioned, the points listed below come from a short speech
made at the end of a keynote talk to researchers attending a special event at
NTU. They are not intended to be the final word on this topic. Also remember
that I was speaking in Taiwan. Hence, the pros and cons listed below are filled
with context based on being in Taiwan. Along those same lines, many of these
points will relate solely to Taiwan and may not pertain to your country,
institution, or situation. Finally, I should point out that I have many SSCI
publications but do not target such journals. Typically, my co-authors or
colleagues want or seek out such journals, not me.
First I will list the Pros:
Goals/Target: Using SSCI as
the ultimate goal for publications provides a focus or a target on which to
Common Lingo: SSCI is a
recognized and commonly understood criterion or measure of excellence.
Measure/Benchmark: Using SSCI
journals as a measure of excellence provides a benchmark of performance for monthly,
quarterly, or annual performance reports and other reviews.
measurement comes high and low scores or ratings. Once established, scholarly
accomplishments can be analyzed, compared, and celebrated.
The research in Taiwan can be compared to that in other countries or locales.
There might be annual comparison reports by region, province, state, or country.
Sense of Pride or Identity:
Individual researchers as well as specific organizations and institutions or
entire countries can take pride in being at or near the top in SSCI rankings
within a specific field or discipline or across fields and disciplines. Many or
most individuals who are recognized will undoubtedly feel an emotional uplift
or sense of pride from some posted accomplishments and recognitions from others.
Boost Journal Quality: The stiff
competition from the emphasis on SSCI publications will likely reduce the published
acceptance rates of higher ranked journals, and, hence, most likely have a
positive impact on journal quality (albeit as determined by those doing the
SSCI rankings and ratings).
Higher Level Articles:
Related to the point above, in general, researchers will be forced (or
encouraged) to write higher level articles. This point will not hold for all
journals or articles, but overall, there should be a noticeable difference in
journal article quality as a result of stiff competition to get published in an
Community of Scholars: Using
SSCI as a standard or benchmark encourages a community of scholars to form who
focus on such journals. They will discuss publication options, guidelines,
experiences, changes, and perceived future trends. In effect, a group of people
will bond together as a means of helping each other reach such goals (especially
for oneself or one’s research team or department).
10. Research Status or Prominence: Taiwan (and any other country which
successfully increases its rankings in SSCI or similar journals) will elevate its
international status, at least from a scholarly or academic perspective.
11. Impact Factor: With the focus and reporting of SSCI publications
will come increasing interest in impact reports and other impact measures or factors.
As such, researchers and scholars as well as their respective institutions and
organizations will more quickly become cognizant of the impact of individual
articles as well as average impact rankings of their departments and programs.
12. Stricter Review Process: Articles will be subjected to more
rigorous standards than many journals now employ. Such firmer or more stringent
review processes may not be observed across all journals, but overall there
will be stronger standards in place.
Now I list the Cons:
Research Publication takes
Priority over Value Creation: Several people mentioned that with the focus on
SSCI, researchers and scholars will be pushing out publications without much
reflection on the true impact of each article or whether they are making a
difference in the real world.
Research-Practice Gap: Similar
to the first point above, many people whom I spoke with noted that the gap
between research and practice widens with this concentration on SSCI
publications. Researchers must try to conduct research and publish as much as
possible in such journals. As a result, there is a sense that they care little
for the implementation of their research findings and ideas. And the gap
continues to widen between researchers and practitioners with each passing day,
month, and year. Is there any hope Obi Wan Kenobe?
Publications Skewed toward
those with Technology Backgrounds: Some people will publish in journals that
they never considered before simply because they can. For instance, those with
computer science backgrounds will find some of the educational technology
journals are ideal research outlets to describe their newly designed cool tool,
simulation, online resource, or similar, even though they are not committed to
the field of educational technology or have any previous interests in it.
Greed Factor: Some
researchers and scholars will attempt to publish in SSCI journals primarily
with the goal of a pay-off such as a bonus check at the end of the year or a
salary increase. In places like Korea, I heard that faculty can received a
bonus of $4,000 or $5,000 or more for each SSCI publication. I had four such
SSCI publications one year and received no such bonus. Hey man, what gives?
Values Messed Up: People
covet the journal publication process and celebrate it, rather than the
research that led to it or the actual results or the ways in which such
research is actually used.
Easy Journal Syndrome:
People seek out the easiest SSCI journals to publish in. Several people in
Taiwan told me to notice that there is a educational technology journal from Turkey that is no longer SSCI or acceptable in the "I" lists maintained in Taiwan (I think they meant the Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology (TOJET), not the Turkish Journal of Online Distance Education (TOJDE)). Apparently, people caught wind of how a particular journal had accepted more
articles than some of the other SSCI journals in the field of educational technology
and it was removed from the list. Before its removal, many people from Taiwan had targeted it.
Distinguished Title Goals:
Some people attempt to publish as many articles in SSCI journals as they can in
hopes of more pay, better titles, internal promotion, a different job, higher
status, respect, etc., rather than genuinely attempting to make a contribution
to a field or push it ahead. In effect, many people wind up scamming the system
for personal goals.
Limited Journal Selection:
Many up-and-coming journals are not on the SSCI list. To make matters worse, it
is increasingly difficult for new journals to get listed when everyone is
concentrating on a select few journals. I mention this as a problem since many
high quality journals are not found in SSCI lists.
Traditions Lead to More
Traditions: As related to the previous point, the older and traditional
journals in the field tend to dominate the submission process and ultimately
the rankings. Yet, the narrow or established publication topics accepted by traditional
journals may stagnate the field and limit creativity.
10. Narrow Focus: If most researchers focus on publishing in a few
highly select journals or dissemination outlets, the entire field may become
narrowly focused on what is acceptable in those select journals. Research on
the edges or periphery of a field may get shortchanged or not noticed at all.
11. Editorial Board Dominance: As a result of such SSCI journal
targeting, certain journals end up with editorial boards with heavy
representation from East Asia, and, in particular, Taiwan. One of the people I
interviewed specifically mentioned the British Journal of Educational
Technology (BJET) as a case in point. (Sidenote: I reviewed the editor and
reviewer list for BJET and saw some representation from Taiwan but not
dominance. Nevertheless, I think the person who mentioned this issue has a
point worth mentioning here.)
12. English Dominance: SSCI journals tend to be published in English.
Some people whom I interviewed in Taiwan told me that they felt that Chinese
people (and others who do not speak English) were being slighted by such
13. Narrow-minded Recruitment Practices: Some people noted that there
are limited job opportunities for those who do not play the SSCI game as well
as for those who do and are not successful at it.
14. SSCI is Corporate: A couple of people pointed out that SSCI is
created by an institute made up of library science people. It is now a
corporation. It is made available from Thompson Reuters through a subscription service from the Web of Science (see also this video on Intellectual Property and Science at Thompson Reuters). Why are people in academia bowing to statistics created by a
corporate entity which makes money from such homage?
15. Impact Factor Ranking Manipulations: I am on the board of a couple
of journals which are currently on the approved SSCI list. I have heard through
the grapevine that SSCI rankings can be manipulated by the publisher. They can
use marketing tactics to bring attention (eyeballs) to their journals, and,
hence, increase their deemed value. I am not sure if this is true, but I would
not doubt it either.
16. Creativity and Spontaneity Limited: Innovation and insight often
occur at the far edges of a field or at the intersections of two or more fields
or topics. When researchers become enamored with publications in particular
journals that have a long-standing reputation in the field, creative bursts of
insight are less likely to occur. Less zeal. And, as noted below, there tends
to be far less passion and true volition than if there weren’t such targets.
17. Lack of Passion and Interest: As noted in the point above, with the
emphasis on SSCI or other similar indexes of achievement, there is less sense
of true passion for the field or topic. One may really lack true interest in or
concern for the topic being researched. When that happens, what is one living
or working for? What is their true aim in life? Just who are they benefitting?
18. Elitism Reigns: Not on the list? Well, now, that makes you
unimportant and inferior. You do not deserve a second look. We will not discuss
you, approach you, review for you, celebrate you, or recommend you. We will
also not embrace or hug you when you publish a slew of articles in non-SSCI
journals. No one will care whether you live or die. Go away for all we care.
Yes, we’d be better off if you simply died a quick death. Nothing slow, mind
you. Be gone!
19. Rats in a Cage: We are just rats in a cage seeking the next
pellet. You must do this. And then you should do this. And this and this and
this! And then you have to do “that” while you’re at it. We will give you the
target or targets. Do not fret about them; they are out of your control anyway.
We will decide if you made it to the Promised Land or not. Oh my…all this sounds
like the TV show “The Outer Limits") controlling the horizontal and vertical on
your TV set in the 1960s (more specifically from September 16, 1963 to January 16, 1965).
“There is nothing wrong with
your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling
transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we
wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the
horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it
flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal
clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see
and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are
about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe
and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Outer Limits.”
We will throw all of
you rats in the same cage and see which one of you spins the fastest or can
coerce enough reviewers to accept your articles. Those that do, will win. Plain
As I told people at
NTU, it is highly unfortunate that after spending decades in primary,
secondary, and post-secondary education, that many scholars remain treated as
rats in a cage. People are controlling us. They would control all that we do if
we let. Perhaps we have truly hit “the Outer Limits” of what we should expect
scholars and researchers to do. Perhaps it is time to rebel against those who
impose these (“silly”?) SSCI systems upon us. Do not allow others to control your horizontal or vertical image. Please do not sit quietly and let others control what you see and hear and do.
20. Industrial or Factory Model: The emphasis on SSCI as the benchmark
for decision making about one’s productivity or overall worth is reminiscent of
a factory model of education. Someone outside the discipline decides on the end
state (i.e., publications in SSCI journals). The government and administrators
are favoring one form of scholarship over others. And, as a result, people
continue to work for an external or extrinsic goal instead of something that
meets their true inner passions or volitions. When will there be freedom to
learn, as Carl Rogers once implored? Freedom to explore new areas of interest.
Freedom to venture into the unknown. Freedom to choose what to research and
where to publish our findings. Freedom to free from the constraints placed on us
from those in positions above. Freedom to be human.
21. “I feel strange”: During my first few days in Taiwan, I asked a
former Indiana University student who recently received a researcher position
in Taiwan what he thought about the emphasis on SSCI and the overall merit system
in place in Taiwan. His response was the following, “I feel strange.” Why does
he feel strange? Well, I guess he just finished years working on his Ph.D. in
pure mathematics. There were many hoops and hurdles to climb or jump through.
There indeed was much celebration and fanfare in the end. There was so much to be
proud of. But now there are many more hoops. Vastly more hurdles than he ever
dreamed of. It is another game that has been established. His identity will
come from publications in a few select journals and perhaps his grant writing,
but not much more. Undoubtedly, such a situation would feel strange to me too.
22. Journal Editors Feel Strange: Of course, researchers and scholars
are not the only ones feeling this sense of strangeness. According to a couple
people who I talked to, there are others besides the professors and researchers
attempting to publish in SSCI journals who feel strange too. The people that I
talked to thought that journal editors who are being sent a never-ending supply
of manuscripts from researchers in Taiwan, Korea, and China must feel that it is
at least a tad odd or weird when they scan their manuscript in-box. Do they
attempt to balance publications in their journal by country or region of the
world in which the authors are from? Or do they simply select the highest
ranked papers for the next issue? Might they try to use some combination of
both? Or do they have a different approach?
23. Productivity Slaves: Some researchers and scholars find ways to
take advantage of having graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and
others around them or in their research teams. These knowledge workers might play
a significant role in collecting research data as well as writing up or editing
papers for SSCI journals. In effect, some scholars have extra money from grants
that others do not have access to and can take advantage of it for a
never-ending cycle of SSCI publications and rewards.
(By the way, according to
one of my sources, “The NSC announced last year that they would not use “I” as
the main indicator for reviewing research proposals. They are working on a more
balanced review process, not solely relying on RPI (Research Performance Index),
also based on “I” points. Even so, this is something that Taiwan government
always does – “give you a pain killer when you have a pain.” They always
prescribe medicine without looking into the root of the pain. Even worse, their
prescriptions often aggregate the pain without curing the root cause of it…As a
result, the government has lost its credibility. This is partially due to the
fact that the raging “I” monsters have spread on this small “I”sland wildly. I
really doubt what they can do to rectify the “I” system so deeply rooted in
Well said, my friend. During the next few years, we will see if this monster is truly going away or not. It may take time. Much time!
24. Student Issues: Given the massive attention paid to SSCI journal
publications, to what degree does this focus shortchange students? Are learner needs
being met? Does research take more precedence over teaching high quality
courses or internal and external service? Just what is ignored or attended to
less frequently with the massive infatuation with SSCI?
25. Limited Teaching Exposure and Experience: Some people noted that
due to the enamoration with on SSCI journal publications, graduate students are
often conducting and writing up research. There are less and less graduate students
who are obtaining teaching experience prior to completing their doctorates.
26. SSCI Preparedness Training Programs: According to some of my
sources, there are summer workshops on how to succeed in publishing in SSCI
journals. Question abound. Who are these people providing such workshops? If
one can get training for such publications, why don’t universities provide such
workshops for all of their faculty members and researchers? Someone I talked to
asked whether there was a money back guarantee if one does not succeed. Good
question. I will add the following to her question: If one can be trained in a
few days to publish in such journals, should we continue to hold such journals
in high esteem? I think not.
27. Personal Growth and Development: When external targets are
created, one’s sense of self is inherently devalued. There is less focus on
personal growth and self-development. But what is more important: personal
growth and self-actualization or meeting some externally contrived goal or
outcome? I would hope it is the former. No one is going to write on one’s
gravestone that this person got so many SSCI publications or grants during his
or her lifetime. However, they may record the original or unique pieces of work
actually produced by that person.
Ok, that concludes my 12 pros and 27 cons of the special weight
placed on SSCI in East Asia; especially in Taiwan. See what you think and remember that I am not an
SSCI expert. There are likely thousands of other people around the planet
(especially in East Asia) who are much more prepared to discuss this topic than
me. And also remember that I have had many SSCI publications in the past as a
result of people I am working targeting such journals.
I personally do not care if my articles find their way in SSCI journals.
I get no bonuses or rewards for such. Though I would not turn down a bonus
check or two if one were to come my way. Let’s see, 4 SSCI publications in 2009
worth $5,000 each in Korea. That would be…hum…$20,000 for spending money during
Christmas holidays. I’ll take it! Na, I will let someone from Taiwan have a
crack at it instead.
Are you going to bed now? I am. If you are, remember to check for those "I" monsters hiding under your bed or in your closet. Also remember to list those SSCI, A&HCI, and SCI journal publications in your Christmas wish list. Will they be better than visions of sugar-plums dancing in your heads? I think not. Now, dash away! Dash away! Dash away all you who create these fictional goals for us!
Labels: "I" monsters, A&HCI, impact factor, Korea, MOOCs, National Science Council, National Taiwan University, NTU, open education, SCI, Social Science Citation Index, SSCI, Taipei, Taiwan, Web of Science