The ARC has accepted the ranking of law journals proposed (reluctantly) by the Council of Australian Law Deans (CALD) and it’s not good news for competition law academics. Rankings are designed to ensure research is assessed based on 'quality' and not merely 'quantity', although exactly how this will work in practice remains unclear. Good quality research is to be encouraged, but quality assessment cannot be made on the basis of journal alone. To do so risks excluding important research and, unfairly (and retrospectively) 'demoting' valuable research contributions because academics did not have the foresight to anticipate which journals might win favour with the ARC. The ranking (in which the highest 'quality' journals are awarded an 'A+' ranking and the the lowest quality awarded a 'C') has been aptly described by one UK academic as a demonstration of CALD’s “collective willingness to make enemies”.
The effect of ranking on competition law research
In the field of competition law there are NO journals, anywhere in the world, that make it to an A+ ranking. There are three journals that make an 'A' ranking, but none are Australian. Two relevant Australian journals manage a B ranking, but the rest are relegated to 'C'. The consequence must be that instead of publishing in Australian professional journals likely to have the most impact on law and policy in Australia, competition academics must look primarily to US or European journals if they wish their research to have any value with their Institution or the Australian Research Council; to do this requires a shift in focus domestic issues to international, comparative or purely foreign issues. This is clearly valuable – to a degree – but given the wave of competition reform we are currently experiencing in this country (of which the introduction of criminal cartel laws is just the latest example), any arbitrary ranking which pushes our focus from research into domestic competition policy issues should be discouraged.
Generalist law journals
Alternatively, of course, competition academics can aim for the generalist university journals; most of the A+ journals are US or European and would not publish Australian competition law articles (too bad if your research focus is domestic law); in Australia we only really have the Melbourne Uni Law Review, Sydney Law Review or Uni of NSW Law Journal if we want a top ranking. If prepared to settle for an A there’s ONE other Australian university journal (plenty of foreign ones though) we can add to the list: the Monash Uni Law Review. Coming in with a B ranking we can aim for a few more Australian law journals: the Adelaide Law Review, Flinders Journal of Law Reform, the Griffith Law Review, the University of Queensland Law Journal, the University of Tasmania Law Review and the University of WA Law Review. Every other generalist Australian university law journal limps in level C, if at all.
There are, however, problems with publishing in generalist journals; if you want to target your research to the audience most likely to benefit from it (practitioners, business, politicians or regulators such as the ACCC) then your best chance of recognition is through the professional journals dedicated to that specific field of study. This option is now clearly discouraged.
The futility of ranking
In the field of law there are hundreds of journals covering dozens of legal topics. There is no established mechanism by which journals across different disciplines can be compared for quality. It is also clear that within the same journal there may be both in depth research papers of very high quality and minor papers of 'relatively' poor quality - consequently, there are some brilliant articles in the level C journals and some poor ones in the A+’s. Journal ranking is, therefore, a bit like equating a world renowned professor at a small or newer university (which might be favoured for location, size, speciality etc) with a first year associate lecturer at one of the leading – old – universities merely on the basis of their employer without any reference to the individual. It’s depressing. It’s discouraging. It’s simply wrong.
The self-fulfilling nature of ranking and the power given to editors
Another problem with rankings is that they can become self-fulfilling. It will increase popularity of the A - A+ journals and spell the death of some quality professional journals as academics are encouraged to submit to more highly ranking generalist journals. No doubt in a few years a study will be done to show that more people seek publication in A+ journals, thus it's harder to get published in them and therefore getting published in them provides some evidence of quality; and also some evidence that the ranking got it right! This is, of course, a nonsense. Naturally more people will seek publication in A+ journals, but this doesn't (always) reflect the quality or suitability of the journal, but is borne out of necessity to play the rankings game. Nor does selection for publication always reflect quality - article selection will depend more on the journal editor and selected reviewer than on any accurate comparability study between submitted articles.
The ranking also gives undesirable power to journal editors. This is particularly troubling for generalist university journals, edited by staff or students of the relevant institutions who - in the case of highly ranked journals - have a clear interest in their own academics being published ahead of those from rival institutions.
Why do competition law journals fare so poorly? Discipline specific journals in feminist law, tax, property, human rights and philosophy fare quite well - why not competition? Are competition law academics inherently dumber than property academics? Is our research simply not considered valuable (as it is in other jurisdictions)? Or could it be that competition law is not something familiar to all lawyers involved in the ranking process, given that it is not a compulsory subject for legal practice and thus not even offered for study in all institutions (and of those that do offer it, as far as I am aware, only my School makes it a compulsory subject for study)? Consequently, most established legal academics know little if anything about competition law. Although that may be a slightly cynical view, but I can't proffer a better explanation.
Unfortunatley it appears we are likely to be stuck with the rankings for some time.
With a top ranking of A+ and a bottom ranking of C, here is how the key business and competition law journals fared (Australian journals appear in italics)
Nope, nothing here …
American Business Law Journal
Antitrust Law Journal
Journal Of Business Law
Australian Business Law Review (seriously!)
Competition and Consumer Law Journal
European Competition Law Review
International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law
Journal of Competition Law and Economics
World Competition: Law and Economics Review
(842 journals in total get this ranking)
Antitrust Law and Economics Review
Australian and New Zealand Trade Practices Law Bulletin
Business Law Review
Competition Law Journal
Competition Law Review
Contract Law Journal (my other passion …)
European Business Law Review
European Competition Journal
Global Competition Review
International Business Law Journal
International Business Lawyer
Trade Practices Law Journal (yes, publishing quality research articles here is now ranked just as highly as publishing in the ANZTP Bulletin or Global competition review (essentially newsletters))
For a more general discussion of law journal ranking see David Hamer, 'ARC Rankings Poor on Law', The Australian, 25 June 2008 and Margaret Thornton, 'Ire of the Beholder', The Australian, 24 September 2008.