Thursday, January 27, 2005

Research in Taiwan in an international context

Now that the semester is over, I had some time to go over some of articles in the "Forum" section of the Taiwan News. Two articles were particularly interesting to me for their attacks on the Ministry of Education's (over-)emphasis on international ranking criteria such as SCI, SSCI, and A&HCI:
  1. "Academic Production Amid Global Neo-liberalism" by Chen Kuang-hsing (published Nov. 30, 2004)
  2. "Reflections on Academic Evaluation and Academic Production: Taking Economic Sciences as Example" by Chu Wan-wen (pub. Dec. 1, 2004)
These two articles focus on Taiwan's academic production in a global context and how the push for publication in international academic fora have both disadvantaged Taiwanese researchers and led researchers here to neglect local concerns in favor of broader international issues. (Note: there has been extensive discussion on Scott Sommers's blog about this. I just want to point out two other places where this issue is being discussed.)

Chen argues that the government-encouraged value of competing internationally in the academic marketplace (including having the goal of placing a Taiwanese university among the top 100 of international universities) has led Taiwan "to treat academic production as a quantifiable indicator that counts toward national competitiveness and to implement rewards and punishments based on quantified scores." International academic production necessarily means writing in English instead of Chinese and writing for an audience that is perhaps not so interested in the Taiwan situation for its own sake, he continues.
At the same time, if researchers must use the theoretical framework and language familiar to the English-speaking world in exchange for the possibility of publication, then in the longer term the context and concerns of our society, politics, culture, and history will gradually be hollowed out and publication in the humanities and social sciences will more and more resemble that of the natural sciences and become equally monadic. This obviously runs counter to the recent trend in world academia of emphasizing diversity and heterogeneity.
Chu agrees with this assessment, pointing out that
international evaluation criteria do not attach importance to the functional goal of "serving the needs of the local society." The problems that international journals are concerned about, their problem awareness, is led by the European and North American (it would be more accurate to say the U.S.) academic circles. While these concerns also have their universal significance, they do not necessarily have a lot of overlap with the immediate concerns of Taiwan and any other region.
Chu goes on,
The globalization phenomenon of the humanities and social sciences in catching-up economies like Taiwan is not at all an "international division of labor." Instead, under the shroud of U.S. cultural hegemony, we invoke on our own account U.S. criteria (that we affirm) as standard for mutual evaluation. This might lead to a blind following of Western theory. At the same time it might translate into the commitment of vast academic resources for the research of U.S. mainstream issues as well as the examination of local issues from an American perspective and American problem awareness.
Chen and Chu both argue that Taiwan scholars and government organizations like the Ministry of Education should be aware that using "international" criteria for judging academic production can come with a price if the concept of international standards of quality is conflated with the goal of publishing internationally in Western (mostly U.S.) academic journals. What gets lost is a concern with locally pressing issues and concerns.


Anonymous said...

If local researchers have important points to make about local issues, or if local publications can raise their standards high enough to attract other contributors and citations from important researchers, then the argument that "we" must follow "them" stops being an issue. The core of this debate now is the SSCI and SCI citation lists, yet these lists are not biased away from issues dealing with Taiwan, but in fact are based totally on number of times a paper is cited. That means the importance of the work as far as it influences other researchers.

The idea that we must give up the local is WAY off the mark, as my own work shows. I have a number of SSCI papers and they all deal with local issues, but one MUST link to larger theories, research trends, assumptions (to affirm or reject them), etc. As the Minister of education once asked, "Do you want to be internationally ranked or not?" It is THAT simple. Getting ranked means doing science at a level of quality that is respected by others internationally (thus it is cited).

This effort is hard. It is VERY hard. A typical area of study in the social sciences may have four top ranked SSCI journals, and each produces four issues with about four to five main papers per issue. That means 80 slots for everyone in the world per year. That means you have to be VERY VERY good. All this talk about rewarding ONLY those who get ranked is wrong, since there just is not enough space. The MOE should be more realistic and GREATLY reward those who make it, but also understand that there are different levels to publish at and important work is being done outside of just those few SSCI ranked journals.

The talk about "My work is really good, but no SSCI publishes me!" is just like a bunch of kids crying. There is NOTHING stopping any local journal from being SSCI ranked. All you need is for it to be cited enough. It takes lots of works, the highest standards, and time--decades. These are not quite the values Taiwan's fickle education system and professors excel at. So what is the answer--in Taiwan the answer is "Lets make our own system." Well, you can call duck an eagle, but it don't make it so.

Clyde Warden

Jonathan Benda said...

Short response: certainly there are disciplines that are not hostile to--that indeed are welcoming of--Taiwanese or Taiwan-based perspectives on current concerns. I won't argue about that. Whether or not it is productive or useful in every case to pitch one's arguments toward international audiences is another matter. As you say, Clyde, the MOE should not fail to recognize important work being done that does not get published in the "top" SSCI journals. I would add that it should not ignore or devalue important work done locally that might not be cited by international journals (because, for instance, it might be in Chinese). What I'm afraid will happen (and what I'm already beginning to see happening) is a whole-scale run to try to get published in SSCI journals (actually, you mentioned some of the implications of this in a post to Scott's blog).

[Longer response forthcoming... but I've got a paper to write...]