How journal rankings can suppress interdisciplinary research

Speaker: Dr Ismael Rafols # SPRU, University of Sussex

12th Mar 2012

15:30 - 17:00

ESRC Innogen Centre, Old Surgeons' Hall, HSY


While interdisciplinary research is valued as a means of encouraging scientific breakthroughs, innovation and socially relevant science, it is also widely perceived as being at a disadvantage in research evaluations. Qualitative studies have provided evidence that peer review tends to be biased against interdisciplinary research. However, quantitative studies on this claim have been few and inconclusive.

Using publication and citation data, this investigation compares the degree of interdisciplinarity and the research performance of a number of Innovation Studies units with that of leading Business & Management schools in the UK. Given the controversial nature of the concepts and measures of interdisciplinarity and performance, we make an explicit effort to ‘open up’ the evaluation by providing multiple scientometric perspectives and introducing novel mapping techniques.

On the basis of various mappings and metrics, we show that the use of Association of Business Schools’ rankings results in a favourable assessment of the performance of Business & Management schools, which are more disciplinary-focused. However, a citation-based analysis challenges the journal ranking-based assessment. In short, the investigation illustrates how ostensibly ‘excellence-based’ journal rankings exhibit a systematic bias in favour of mono-disciplinary research.

Finally, we discuss the implications of these findings, in particular how the bias is likely to affect negatively the evaluation and associated financial resourcing of interdisciplinary research organisations.

Full paper and visualisations available at:


Ismael Rafols is a Senior Research Fellow at SPRU, the University of Sussex, where he studies the dynamics of interdisciplinary fields, in particular nano- and biotechnologies, and the evaluation of interdisciplinary organisations. His research combines conceptual insights from Science and Technology Studies with network analysis based on scientometric data and interviews.

Personal webpage:

Research webpage:

This talk will be recorded and then made available to view on this website a few weeks after the event.

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