Ethics: What is expected of AOM Members?

ethics-cropped-1024x555Did you realize that as a member of the Academy of Management you “agree to uphold and promote the principles of the ‘AOM_Code_of_Ethics’ and to adhere to its enforced ethical standards”? Do you know what principles and standards you agreed to uphold?

Like most people, you probably think the Code of Ethics exists as a reference to consult when things go horribly wrong.   Understandably, studying the AOM Code of Ethics is probably at the very bottom of an extremely long to-do list.

So why would you read and think about the AOM Code of Ethics? First, yourightandwrongdecisions might want to know what the AOM expects of you as a member, and what you can expect of other members. Are there specific ethical guidelines you should know about, as related to participation in activities in your Divisions, committees, the annual conference or other AOM events? What about guidelines for your professional life outside of AOM– as a researcher, instructor, consultant, or as a student?

Second, you might want to know where you can find help or answers when you encounter ethical dilemmas. Who should you go to within the Academy? What are the roles of the Ethics Committee including the Ombuds Committee, the Adjudication Committee, as well as the Ethics Education Committee (EEC)?

Finally, you might want to know what is contained in the current Academy of Management Code of Ethics, so you can provide input on periodic revisions. How can we make sure this Code is up-to-date and relevant given emerging dilemmas in our world?

The Ethics Education Committee is here to help. At the coming Annual Meeting in Anaheim we can offer the following types of sessions for your meeting, Division Consortium or Committee:

  1.  Presentation and Discussion: A 60-minute interactive session on business and professional ethics, values and the AOM Code of Ethics.
  2. Overview and Q & A: A 30-minute introduction to the AOM Code of Ethics, who does what at the Academy in the ethics area, including the role of the Ombuds.
  3.  Discussant: An EEC member can attend an ethics session you are offering, and answer questions as needed about the AOM Code, Ombuds roles etc.

Please contact EEC Chair Janet Salmons (jsalmons[at]vision2lead.com or with the contact form below) to discuss ways the EEC can help ensure that new and returning members your area of the Academy are familiar with the principles and standards they agreed to uphold.

The EEC will also be offering these opportunities for discussion at the Annual Meeting:

  • Open Forum on Ethical Scholarship on Saturday, August 06 from 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM Anaheim Marriott, Elite Ballroom 1.
  • Open Forum on Global Ethics for Business & Academia on Saturday, August 06 from 5:45 PM – 7:15 PM at the Anaheim Marriott, Elite Ballroom 1.
  • Committee Meeting: If you are interested in joining us, our (open) meeting will be held Sunday, August 07, from 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM at the Anaheim Marriott, Elite Ballroom 1.

 

 

 

When journal editors are unprofessional

I recently read a NY times article highlighting an obvious conflict, when stock analysts own stock or options in the companies they are evaluating, or retain close ties with  those companies. It’s kind of horrifying to think that what is regarded as objective, unsolicited advice, may really be individuals trying to ‘game’ the system, by pushing up the price of their options for personal gain. Of course, that’s Wall Street, we’ve seen it before, and I’m sure we’ll see it again. But it got me thinking – what about journal editors?

Journal editors make decisions, often with considerable career implications, but their relationships – with the persons they evaluate, or the way they make decisions – is entirely opaque. It’s not like there’s some sort of appeals board one can go to if one thinks they have been slighted by an editor who bears a grudge against an author, their university, or even the theoretical or methodological paradigm they are writing about. This opens up not only questions of abuse of power and self interest, but also of due process.

We all want to think that the blind review process is objective – but what about the reviewer selection?  What about other practices? I don’t have to go far to find a litany of editor’s abusive activities. Just scratching the surface, we find the ‘tit for tat’ exchange – “ I will publish your paper in my journal, with the expectation that you will reciprocate with a publication your journal”. The special issue editor, that always seems to publish good friends and colleagues from their particular sphere of influence. Special issue editors are a particular problem, as they seem to go relatively unregulated. These practices effectively reduce the probability of a general submission being accepted, as there are few slots allocated to the genuine public of scholars. We also have coercive citations abuse, whereby the editor informs the author that they need to cite their journal (to improve the impact factor) in the editor’s R&R letter.  And, of course, we have the form letter rejection, sometimes not even reflecting the contents of the paper submitted, or addressing the material in a way demonstrating that the editor actually read anything.

What I find particularly surprising is that there is virtually no recourse. Many of us have experienced egregious editorial injustice, yet we simply grin and bear it. Students, on the other hand, seem to have figured out a way to vent their frustrations is a way that might, perhaps, temper the worst of academic injustice. Sites like ‘rate my professor’ allow students to voice their anger and frustration at what they view to be unjust or unprofessional activities. While I am the first to acknowledge that the site is relatively un-monitored and subject to potential biases and abuse – at least it provides a forum.

Academy of Management journals maintain a fairly transparent editorial policy, limiting the tenure of editors, and opening up nominations to our membership. This is good practice. Why don’t ALL journals publish a code of editorial ethics? Why don’t they ALL consider grievance procedures? Where is our academic forum? Why is it that we academics, have not devised a site to discuss perceived biases, unprofessional behavior, and irresponsible editing? I know, from talking with colleagues, that most of us have experienced unprofessional and sometimes outright unethical practices. Yet, we sit silently, submitting our papers to yet another journal, hoping for a fair evaluation at another venue. Meanwhile, some editors, even those demonstrating deeply abusive practices, are professionally rewarded.

Is there something we can do?  Does anyone have a suggestion? Or, are we all ‘happy campers”?

What are we professors to do? Are we better than VW?

As members of the Academy, we each hold responsibility in upholding our professional ethics. Once the ‘egg is broken’, it will be very hard to re-establish public confidence. VW, for instance, will undoubtedly have a long road in convincing the public that their organization acts in an ethically responsible way. While the public seemed to quickly forgive GM for their ignoring a faulty ignition problem, they are less willing to forgive systemic premeditated corruption. We have seen the flashback from the American Psychological Association regarding members advising how best to conduct torture having an impact on their community. In short, many of these professional ethical issues have a way of impacting our field for the long run.

In the last posting, Greg Stephens AOM’s onbudperson, outlined a range of issues they examine, with instructions regarding how to proceed should you have a professional ethics dilemma. They do a fantastic job, often behind the scenes, and we should be very appreciative of their hard work.

Of course, these issues are primarily only of relevance to things that happen in and around the Academy of Management. If you observe something at another conference, or at a non AOM sponsored journal, well, there may be few if any options for you to pursue.

A  AOM recent censure ruling, the first I ever recall seeing, included the sanctioning of an academy member. Professor Andreas Hinterhuber had submitted a previously published paper for consideration at the upcoming Annual Meeting. The ruling was as follows:

The final sanctions include disqualification from participation in Academy of Management activities (including but not limited to submission to the conference, participation on the conference program, serving the Academy or any of its Divisions or Interest Groups in an elected or appointed role, or submission to any of the Academy of Management journals) for a period of three (3) years, public notice of the violation through publication in the AcadeMY News; formal notification to the journal where the work was previously published, and ethics counseling by the Ombuds Committee.

Seeing a public and formal sanction is a good professional start, and I applaud our organization for taking the trouble to demonstrate that we have professional limits that should be honored. However, what if  Professor Andreas Hinterhuber were found to have done the same thing at, say, EGOS, or BAM? Of what about someone who submits a paper simultaneously to two different journals for review? Would the consequences be the same? Likely not.

It would seem to me that we would all benefit from a larger professional ‘tent’ whereby public notice of violations and censure were more systematically discussed. I find it very odd that, out of 20,000 members, it is so rare for us to have a public censure (this is the first I am aware of – although there may have been other non-public consequences). Every year I hear of multiple cases of doctors and lawyers getting disbarred.  The odds are presumably the same for our profession, but the consequences far less, and the frequency of public humiliation quite rare. This would only provide incentives to engage in unprofessional conduct.  I am not suggesting we begin a yellow journalistic finger pointing exercise. Only that given the rise in competition, and the important stakes involved in our profession, we should collectively think about professional monitoring, public dialog, and the provision of clear ethical guidelines in our doctoral and professional career development.

Your thoughts on the matter are welcome.

When should you contact an AOM Ombuds?

Imagine . . .

A co-author on a paper submitted to an Academy of Management Conference is telling others that you didn’t really contribute much to the paper, and that your name was included as a “courtesy.” You are upset, and don’t know why she would do this, but you want it to stop.

You have just learned that a person you believe to have been a reviewer on a paper you submitted to an Academy journal has published a paper that draws largely on ideas you first put forth in your paper, and has claimed those ideas as his own. The journal editor doesn’t seem especially interested in taking action.

You have just discovered instances of what you believe to be unauthorized/unattributed plagiarism of your previous work in a paper submitted to an Academy journal. You are angry, and want the other person to withdraw his paper and to promise to never submit it to any other journal or conference.

You have been accused of plagiarism, and have no idea where the other person is coming from…to you, it seems that you simply (and legitimately) built on past work. As a doctoral candidate, you are very worried about the impact this might have on your job prospects, and you don’t know where to begin to resolve the issue.

If you’ve experienced anything similar to these incidences, you’d probably like some assistance. Perhaps an Ombuds can help! It’s a good time to contact an AOM Ombudsperson when:

  • You do not know how to begin the process of resolving your conflict.
  • You experience an issue or concern that you are not able to resolve through direct communication with the other person.
  • You are confused or at your wits end about options for dealing with the issue.
  • When you believe you have been treated unfairly or unethically by another person while engaged in work with, through, or for an Academy journal or conference.
  • When you think it might help to get the perspective of a neutral third party, have a neutral sounding board, or work with someone to identify options or ideas you may not have considered.

Ombuds are independent, impartial and provide a free service for AOM members involved in conflicts or with ethics complaints regarding work involving AOM journals or conferences. We adhere to the standards of the International Ombudsman Association, whose principles are informality, confidentiality, neutrality/impartiality, and independence (future blogs will expand on each of these principles). Ombuds provide a listening ear, assist with options generation, and offer advice regarding how to handle your dispute. They will work to help you clarify what you can do or how you can act to resolve the conflict, or to improve relationships. An Ombuds can help you understand your own rights and options with regards to complaints you might have that involve AOM research outlets or other functions and activities.

To help AOM members, the Ombuds may draw upon the following approaches, as needed:

  • Mediating disputes among AOM members concerning alleged ethics violations
  • Providing informal counseling (“active listening”) and referrals to individuals on ethics issues
  • Educating individuals about the AOM Code of Ethics, Ethical Standards and the Policies and Procedures
  • Receiving and processing requests for interpretations of the Code
  • Forwarding anonymous complaints requiring investigation to the Past President for possible action (see Operating Procedures & Anonymity)

The Ombuds makes no decisions for the parties nor judgments on the merits of a complaint. We will work to assist the parties in resolving their disputes informally, but if necessary may recommend further formal action by the Ethics Adjudication Committee (EAC). If that proves necessary, the Ombuds will explain the AOM process for filing complaints and provide forms and policy information that may be helpful in moving forward should the individual choose to file a formal complaint. With regard to inquiries and complaints involving non-members, the Ombuds guides the non-member and is available for counseling if needed.

The AOM’s Code of Ethics require AOM members hold themselves accountable to a high ethical standard. Unfortunately, occasionally issues arise that would benefit from further conversation. Using the AOM Ombud serves as an initial and informal attempt to resolve such issues. Using Ombuds services does not take away the option of moving to a formal disciplinary or dispute resolution process. For more information about AOM Ombuds services, please see the AOM Policies and Procedures for Handling Ethical Complaints.

Please contact us (Ombuds@aom.org) if you believe we can help.

Invitation to Publish Ethics Teaching Tips

 

The Academy of Management Ethics Education Committee (EEC) focuses primarily on “educating” AOM members about how to understand our Code of Ethics and use ethical practices in our work as researchers, practitioners, and teachers. When we are in instructional roles, we have a responsibility to develop the next generation in the management field—hopefully with some sense of ethical ways to practice their chosen professions. We may teach courses devoted to business ethics, but more likely, we may want to create opportunities to incorporate a focus on ethics in courses on other leadership and management topic.

To encourage an exchange of ideas and approaches, the EEC is partnering with the Business Ethics Education Initiative at Kansas State University to publish novel tips for teaching ethics in virtual and face-to-face classrooms.  Presently, seven such tips are published on the K-State Initiative website in the section called “Ethics Education,” and soon these tips will be published here on The Ethicist as well.

The AOM Ethics Education Committee invites Academy members to submit your Teaching Tips by sending an abstract of 50 to 100 words that describes your novel method for teaching ethics, along with a link to the fuller description. Please send tips to ethics[at]vision2lead.com. For format guidance, see the examples of Teaching Tips published at the Kansas State University site in the section called “Ethics Education” at this link. Select Teaching Tips will be published here and on the K-State Ethics Education Initiative site.

See a popular example from Diane Swanson, Professor of Management at Kansas State University and Ethics Education Committee member. She uses three Star Trek characters to introduce students to ethics in decision making and the importance of moral courage. Students read her short essay “To Go Boldly! Trekking for Moral Courage” as a point of departure for exploring these topics in class.

We hope by sharing our approaches online throughout the year and at the annual conference, we can create a worthwhile forum where members can interact regarding their roles as ethical instructors who practice what they teach.

 

 

 

Predatory journals, and the arrogance of peer review

Sorry for the long absence, but I’ve been on the road quite a bit lately, providing me with an excuse for taking a short holiday from  blogging in the ethicist.

I recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya, where I was involved in running a track for a management conference for the Africa Academy of Management. The conference was a wonderful success, and it was great seeing so many management scholars from all over the world converging on Africa.

Of course, with any international scholarly conference, there are significant cultural norms, attitudes, and differences that we carry with us to our meetings. I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss just one of them: the perennial elephant in the room: publication, and in particular, predatory publication.

Surprisingly, while I was attending the conference, our Assoc. dean back home in Canada circulated a tract on the hazards of predatory journals. In particular, the email circulated informing the faculty of Beall’s list of predatory publishers.  The list provides perhaps a dozen journal titles specifically tailored toward management scholars. It also includes so called “hijacked journals” which emulate the name or acronym of other famous journals, presumably to confuse readers, as well as misleading metrics, whereby journals publish misleading impact factors (note: inflating  impact factor by journal self plagiarism is NOT considered a misleading practice!). So, for example, there are two ‘South African Journal of Business Management” publishers, presumably a legitimate one, and a ‘hacked’ one. Information Systems Management must contend with ‘Journal of Information System Management’, etc.. etc…

What surprised me most about our Canadian encounters is the reactions of some of my colleagues. An initial request was made to indicate that journals from this list would not be considered for hiring, tenure or promotion. This seemed like a reasonable request. Surprisingly, there was considerable debate, which ranged from “who created this list, anyway, it seems subjective” to “We’ve always been able to distinguish quality in the past, we should just continue as we have always done”.

While this was going on in the home front, my African colleagues were telling me stories of their own.  Publication is now de-rigueur for academic hiring and promotion at most African universities, even though they have barely established a research culture of their own. Incentives can vary widely, but many institutions pay bonuses for publications, and faculty are often offered opportunities to publish in little known journals for a ‘publication fee’ that can be considerable. During our ‘how to publish’ seminars, faculty repeatedly asked us how to distinguish between these predatory journals and the ‘other’ ones. Young scholars proudly shared how they had published six or seven articles in two years (in what journals, one might ask?). Doctoral students asked how to deal with advisers that insist on having their names on publications, despite them having absolutely nothing to do with any aspect of the research in question. In short, they had little information regarding the full range of scholarship, their own institutions rarely subscribed to the better journals, and they were often in a position of working in the dark regarding quality and scholarly norms.

So, coming full circle, it seems we have a problem of global proportions, one that might impact weaker institutions somewhat more (those without the governing systems to adequately ‘sniff out’ the corruption), but one that nevertheless impacts all of our work.

Of course, I can’t help but reflect the culture I live in – North America (I spend a lot of time in Europe as well…). So many of us would like to thumb our noses at our less fortunate colleagues and explain to them, with our own self importance, how our standards of publications reign supreme, and are only to emulated. To those of you, I’d like to refer to to Andrew Gelman’s recent posting that points out some serious weaknesses of our peer review system, where he critiques ‘power pose’ research.  Gelman points out that If you want to really review a paper, you need peer reviewers who can tell you if you’re missing something within the literature—and you need outside reviewers who can rescue you from groupthink”….” peer-review doesn’t get you much. The peers of the power-pose researchers are . . . other power-pose researchers. Or researchers on embodied cognition, or on other debatable claims in experimental psychology. Or maybe other scientists who don’t work in this area but have heard good things about it and want to be supportive of this work.”

So, let’s come full circle for a moment. We are in an international arena. Institutional norms are diffusing such that everyone wants to get into the same ‘game’. However, the rules of the game are subtle, often manipulated, rarely challenged, and heavily biased in favor of insiders over outsiders. No doubt, clarity would help everyone involved. How can we overcome our own blind spots? How can we validate and authenticate the publication process? What kind of measures might we employ to do so?

I disagree with my colleagues who argue ‘it worked in the past, we can continue doing it in the future’. First, I’m not certain how effective we were in the past. There may be numerous failings hidden inside our collective closets, some of which may come to light in the form of future retractions. Second, I’m not so certain we’ve made enormous progress in our own field of study. And finally, and most importantly, new mechanisms for corruption, cheating, and exploiting seem to pop up each and every day.

Which brings me to the central question I’ve been pondering: What can we do, as a community, to improve the quality of our work, while sifting out potential corrupt forces?

 

 

 

The Meaning of Ethics

We’re long overdue here at the Ethicist to get back into the swing of things! Obviously, we’re now looking forward to the annual meeting in Anaheim, which has an especially fortuitous theme for the Ethics Education Committee. As this year’s program chair, Mary Ann Glynn, points out, meaning and ethics are closely related issues for organizations:

Recently, there have been highly publicized corporate scandals, Wall Street corruption, and failures of government to meet the needs of its citizens, with a resulting rise in public distrust and questioning of organizations’ reasons for being.  We often take as given that an organization’s purpose to produce economic value; and, although economic value can often add to social value, sometimes it does not.  This disjuncture raises the question of meaningfulness.

Avoiding scandal and fostering trust is arguably the very meaning of ethics. And if it is true, as I think it is, that communities are essentially constituted by their ethics (show me your ethics and I’ll tell you a great deal about what kind of community you’ve got) then there’s no doubt that frequent scandals and and deepening mistrust would raise fundamental questions about an organization’s “reason for being”. What’s going on? What’s it all about? Why are we here? What does it all mean? Important issues to think about.

Nor is the academy (and even the Academy) able to keep itself entirely aloof from these questions. In the world of research, there have also been scandals and mistrust, and we need to face these issues squarely in our own research practice and communities. That’s where the Ethicist and the Ethics Education Committee would like to be of help.

We’re currently reaching out the AOM divisions to offer our help in developing and implementing ethics modules in their PDW’s and consortia sessions. It is our view that ethics is best approached as a conversation, not a merely a code of conduct. While we have the Code to guide us, the  really interesting work happens in a discussion of the details. And that conversation always has to be anchored in the actual practices that constitute the wide variety of research communities with the Academy of Management. Accordingly, our first responsibility as ethics educators is to listen and learn from members about the situations they face.

This post, then, is an invitation to engage in conversation. Feel free to leave comments below about the sorts of issues you think need to be faced, either by your own discipline or by the management field in general. Also, I am coordinating our consortia contributions this year, so if you are leading a consortium session for your division and would like include the EEC, either in your presentation or in your planning, please contact me by mail so we can work out the details.

 

Decency

A while back, I got into an interesting discussion with Andrew on the subject of courage, which stemmed from my temporary reticence about speaking my mind in public, or my resentment, if you will, of my “obligation to publish”. (I’m happy to say that I’m much better now.) One thought led to another and I soon found myself warning against a situation in which it might take “heroic amounts” of courage to tell the truth in the social sciences, management studies included. Andrew rightly found that prospect depressing.

But along the way I also noticed the particular virtue that might make all the difference here. It’s an insight worth explicating, if for no other reason than to reveal its flaws. (Let me know if you can spot any, please.) It seems to me that we depend on the decency of others not to make too great demands of our courage. What is this strange comportment we call decency that it could have this power?

In the comments, Erik suggested that the anonymity of peer review removes the need for a great deal of courage. And in an important sense, this is exactly the sort of thing I mean. It’s not that I think anonymous reviewers are congenital cowards, though I’m sure many disgruntled authors would like me to validate them in this belief. Rather, since it takes no courage to review a paper (in ordinary cases), we have to rely on the reviewer’s decency. Since they are protected from our personal judgment of them, we can only hope that they will not exploit their freedom to cruelly abuse us, or lead us on a wild goose chase for pointless references, or waste our time with needless revision. We count on them not reject (or accept us) for their own personal gain, and to tell us honestly what they of our work.

But by the same token, where strong institutions ensure decency, e.g., where editorial oversight protects authors from unhelpful reviews, it also takes less courage to submit a paper for review. We know the editor is not going to let our reviewers abuse us and we can rest assured that if they do form a very negative of opinion of our work, they will not be able to form a correspondingly negative opinion of us.

I’ll never forget the lightbulb that went off in my head many years ago when I was reading Edward Johnson’s Handbook of Good English. He said that it’s an editor’s job is to “protect the author from criticism”, meaning unconstructive complaints about language and grammar from the end reader. An associate editor’s job at journal, by extension, is to protect the author from unconstructive criticism of one’s ideas, first from the reviewers, by demanding a certain standard of them, and thereafter from readers, by selecting competent reviewers that are actually able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the paper that has been submitted.

I like to think of decency as the virtue of “immediate rightness”, or appropriateness in the moment. It’s a matter of keeping the surfaces of social interaction tolerably pleasant. Our code requires us to “respect the dignity and worth of all people” in our activities as management scholars and professionals. We might also say we are bound to be decent. It’s akin to “civility”, but that will have to be a topic for another day.

How are we evaluated as scholars?

Considerable effort is expended on tenure reviews, letters of recommendation, and extensive reports on citation counts and the impact factor of  scholarly journals.  Many Jr. faculty tell me that they are required to publish in only a very limited number of ‘high impact’ journals – often as few as five. In fact, one scholar surprised me with this requirement, as not only was the university where he taught not particularly top tier, but neither were his colleagues or the dean imposing the standard. Yet, without the five promising articles, he was out looking for another job. A totally wasted effort on the part of the institution and the scholar, who is very promising and has already ‘delivered’.

The number of universities incorporating these types of barriers seem to be growing, despite increasingly difficult hurdles and ridiculously ‘low’ odds of having a paper accepted for publication in one of these ‘sacred’ journals. It is as though tenure committees no longer have the capacity to think, to read, or to adjudicate. They just want a simple formula, and are just as happy to send a young scholar to another institution then they are to keep them. I just don’t see how that enhances the reputation or quality of the institution. Don’t we want to invest in our human capital? Are faculty simply a number generated by a few editors or by google-scholar? Is there no purpose whatsoever to the community and teaching activities that we might be engaged in, or to the publication outlets that we seek that might be more inclusive than the very top five?

I’ve attended numerous editorial board meetings over the years, and I would say that half of the time dedicated to these meetings revolves around the issue of journal impact factor.  Editors with dropping impact factors seemed ashamed and hasten to share new strategies. I, myself, have observed the removal of case studies and other non-citable material from journals legitimated primarily to enhance citation impact.  Editors with increasing impact factors loudly and broadly share their new found success like proud grandparents.  Given this emphasis, one would think that a set of standard practices would be in order to compare one journal, fairly, with another. And yet, the reality is far from achieving even a semblance of objectivity.

For starters, many editors encourage authors to heavily site their own journals, reflected in the ‘coercive citation’ literature. In fact, a look at the Thompson list of citation impact factor for journals shows that many journals have heavily inflated impact factors due primarily to self-citation. JCR, the primary database for comparison, does provide a measure discounted by self-citations, but this is rarely used or referred to. Fields that are rather small claim the self-citation rate is necessary, as there is little information on their subject matter elsewhere. However, this can also be a convenient way to inflate the work of the editor, editorial board, and influential reviewers and gatekeepers. A very strange example of editorial manipulation occurred a couple of years ago regarding a citation cartel, whereby the editor of one journal edited a few special issues in two other journals. By directing the scholars in the special issues to cite the other journal, the impact factor grew to embarrassingly undeserved heights, resulting in the resignation of that editor.

Now, a recent article has uncovered yet another cynical editorial ‘trick’ to bias statistics and provide a higher impact factor.

An article by Ben Martin in Research Policy entitled “Editors JIF_boosting Stratagems” highlights the many ways editors now employ to upwardly bias their results  (A nice summary of the article is provided by David Matthews  in the times higher education).  The ‘tricks’ are impressive, including keeping articles in a long queue (every wonder why your accepted paper takes two years to reach print?). This ensures that once a paper is published, it will already have a good number of citations attached to it.  As stated by Ben “By holding a paper in the online queue for two years, when it is finally published, it is then earning citations at the Year 3 rate. Papers in Year 3 typically earn about the same number of citations as in Years 1 and 2 combined, and the Year 4 figure is broadly similar.25 Hence, the net effect of this is to add a further 50% or so to the doubling effect described above (the JIF accelerator effect)”.

One top management journal reportedly has 160 articles in their queue, another on management ethics 600!! Other strategies reported include cherry picking articles to hold back, and encouraging review articles, that get widely cited.

In sum, it appears that the ‘objective’ measures we tend to employ regarding journal quality and citation impact are far from objective, and subject to considerable bias and manipulation.

Isn’t it about time that tenure committees read material and focus on content, rather than on a publication’s location? Perhaps we, as a community, can provide a ‘gold standard’ set of recommendations? What do you think?

 

Courage

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”

Hamlet

In the comments to my last post, Andrew quite literally encouraged me to speak my mind. Truth be told, I’ve always been ambivalent about “intellectual courage”. Sometimes the exercise of our ethical obligations seems to require us to be courageous. But is courage itself an ethical obligation?

Courage is, of course, a virtue and it is presumably what is required of us when we “speak truth to power”. In the paradigm case, some form of social power asks us to lie or to remain silent, and when we defy this power we exercise courage. The consequences can be quite serious because, in so far as the power is real, it is also dangerous. If the powerful person or institution we are defying chooses to punish us for speaking the truth, then it has, by definition, the power to do so.

To understand my ambivalence, consider the ethical obligations that follow from being physically strong. “Ought,” they say, “implies can.” If someone is trapped under a car I have an ethical obligation to lift the car off them, but only, of course, if I have the strength to do so. Is courage a kind of “strength” in that sense?

Courage is a virtue and cowardice is a vice. But some part of our everyday moral psychology also sees them as character traits, i.e., as qualities we are either born with or develop through practice but, in any case, simply have a certain amount of at any given time. Suppose I know a “truth” that “power” would have me remain silent about. To speak it is to risk my career. Now, suppose I simply lack the courage to do it. I’m a “coward”, to be sure, but am I violating my ethics? How much courage can be demanded of my ethical behavior?

We are getting to the core of the issue I want to raise. How much courage should it take to speak the truth in an academic environment? Should it take courage to tell someone they are wrong?

On the one hand, we’d think universities would be a premier site of intellectual courage, much like the military should offer regular occasions for valour.* But let’s think this through. Suppose speaking the truth generally takes a great deal of courage. We will then rely on “heroes” to know what is going on. As students, we must assume that learning how the world works will itself require a great deal of courage, not just intelligence and diligence. Worse, the pressures that require truth-tellers to be courageous would also, of course, make cowards of the rest of us, those of us who are disinclined towards heroic acts of speaking truth to power.

In fact, what our academic institutions ought to do is to insulate inquirers from the social pressures that would require them to be courageous. Perhaps we could say an academic should never have to speak truth to power, but always to knowledge, i.e., to something that won’t hurt them, but might correct them. Don’t we want to know truths even if they are discovered by natural born cowards?

From this point of view, it is unfortunate that academics do, throughout the course of their career, amass real, if somewhat parochial, power. They have the power to exploit (and even harass and abuse) their students, for example, or the power to promote ideologies or products, sometimes for something as base as money. Finally, academics have the power to promote or obstruct their colleagues in their careers.

I want here to focus on the cases in which the abuse of power is also the distortion of truth. Sexual harassment, while certainly wrong, and often worse than intellectual dishonesty, does not directly distort our understanding of a given social phenomenon or exaggerate our confidence in a particular theory. (Because of the concomitant lying, to be sure, it does distort the reality experienced by the harassed persons and their colleagues. But this is not a fully or, if you will, a “merely” academic distortion.)

While it seems petty, and certainly unethical, there is really no question about whether academics have an incentive to punish each other for pointing out each other’s mistakes. An academic who is known for making mistakes will be less successful than one who is known for getting things right. So, if I have the power to prevent someone from pointing out my mistakes, I also, whatever else is true, have an incentive to use it. I may simply bribe the would-be truth-teller with promises of advancement, or I may threaten them with unpleasant consequences. This would be unethical.

In an ethical environment, of course, we would trust that I will not be punished for pointing out a mistake. But this will probably require that no one is ever punished for making them (removing the incentive to punish me for pointing it out). That is, I would be able even to be wrong about your mistakes, more or less without consequences. That’s a truly “utopian” situation.

The dystopian situation, however, is one in which it is very dangerous to speak what Al Gore famously called “an inconvenient truth”. Science would only be done by heroes, and, since these are rare, we would have to resign ourselves to the fact that most scientists are intellectual cowards. In my view, ethics is what ensures that only a reasonable, “ordinary” if you will, amount of courage is needed. We would, for the most part, rely on the decency of our colleagues.** And it would also ensure that science, as a social institution, wouldn’t have much need for cowards; wouldn’t encourage them, if you will.

We will, no doubt, always have to speak the truth, if we speak it at all, to some form of power. And so our knowledge will always depend to some extent on our intellectual courage. We can hope, however, that it does not depend on heroic amounts of courage. That same situation is much more likely to make cowards of most of us.
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*Movies that construe soldiers as heroes are, of course, very common. But we sometimes forget how rare they make real courage seem, even among soldiers. In most war movies (and novels), most members of the military, often including high-level officers, are “just following orders”, many of them out of lust for reward or fear of punishment. Much of the conflict pits the hero against these mediocrities.

Indeed, it is possible to raise the question of whether the modern army isn’t actually an attempt to wage war without courage or valour. (This is a common critique of drones, but was already an issue in the British navy, I was once told, when missiles were introduced that allowed one ship to sink another it couldn’t see.) Modernity aside, perhaps this has always been the purpose of a standing army; kings and emperors were finding heroes a bit too rare or too capricious (or perhaps even too honourable!) to realize their foreign policies.

**There’s probably an important relationship between courage and decency. I will explore this in a later post.