What to do about gender and geo/linguistic bias in academic citations?

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 22, 2019

David and Eric Schwitzgebel have made a list of the 295 most cited philosophers in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. On Facebook, Harry commented:

Nussbaum is #10 on this list—not especially surprising. The next woman on the list is Anscombe, at #48. Then Korsgaard at #57, Anderson at #63. Foot comes in at #139 (after Millikan, Cartwright, Thomson, Young and Annas). 10 women in the top 139 is a bit shocking, but the low ranking of Anscombe and Foot is more than a bit shocking. Some of it can be explained away—the list favors the present over the past (and especially, I would guess, the teachers of the people who write for SEP), it favors people who’ve written many somewhat influential pieces over people who have written a few very influential pieces, and it favors people who write about many things over those who write about few things. But add all of those factors together and you don’t come close to explaining why there are so few women in the top #139, and you come even less close to explaining the rankings of Anscombe and Foot in particular.

It is quite depressing indeed, but not at all surprising. There are enough research papers showing that, trying to keep all other factors constant (e.g. by conducting audit studies), women receive less recognition in academia than men. No need to review that literature here again. Not only the women who would be candidates for “top 295” lists, but across the full spectrum of degrees of seniority. But there is more to be said.

One thing that strikes me is that we never discuss what may be an even stronger bias in academic philosophy – bias against scholars who do not have English as their first language, and who do not work in the US, UK, Canada or Australia. That bias is also very strongly visible in the list. Here’s another example. I get to review papers for (decent to excellent) philosophy journals, including on topics on which philosophers who do not work at places in the center of the academic universe have written important work, and it happens that none of it gets cited. I also would like to put the hypothesis on the table that another factor plays a role – that apart from the obviously influential people, we tend to cite more easily people we know personally. Hence, if you work in one of the centers of the academic universe, or are well-connected there, you are more likely to meet people who publish a lot in great places and with great publishers, and all those people are more likely to cite eachother. I hypothesize that (all other things equal) we are more likely to cite the work of a junior or mid-career person we know (except if they irritate the hell out of us), then to cite someone we’ve never met. And that’s not surprising, since (a) we are less likely to read the unknow person’s work, and (b) they do not pop up from our memory so easily when we are inserting references.

So what to do about this? Of course there are all the institutional measures that can be taken to address gender bias in academia, and if the ultimate sources of gender bias in citations are the same as in hiring, inviting, the level of pay, the chances of promotions and all those other ‘rewards’ for one’s scholarly contributions, then one would hope that those institutional measures would also have a positive effect on reducing gender and ‘centristic’ bias in citations.

But since the source of the bias is in some sense also based in our heads, we can also try to address it there, and not wait till society has become less sexist and less obsessed with the status order of different places. About a year ago, I decided to try out the following. I try to not overlook the work of women and philosophers from outside the center of the academic universe when I do my research. But I don’t think that will address bias, since when writing and thinking our braincapacity is mainly devoted to constructing the argument, and there is little brain capacity left that we can devote to self-correct our biases. So in an attempt to counter the biases that will occur in those processes, I pause when a full draft of the paper is finished, I go through the paper and the list of references and ask myself: whom of the women or less powerful scholars who have worked on those topics have I overlooked? And for the few papers for which I took those steps, it was easy to add a few references to women and/or people not working in the center of the academic universe.

It is also possible to try to address the problem more head-on, by actively trying to read the work of scholars one would otherwise not read, because they might not (yet) have published in the mainstream anglophone journals. How many articles by African philosophers being based in Africa have we read? Much of it can be found online for those willing to search, and it should be read more widely – and not only the work of those who’ve been a visitor at Harvard or Princeton. So we should pro-actively try to include those whom we are inclined to be biased against in our reading lists as well as in our citations, and we should pro-actively try to read the work of people who are not based in the center of the academic universe, and if we like their work, invite them to our conferences and seminar series.

There are interesting African philosophers (based in Africa), Asian philosophers (based in Asia), Latin-American philosophers (based in Latin-America) etc etc—and even some overlooked European philosophers in non-UK-Europe, but one may have to make a little effort to find their work. If the problem we’re trying to address is citation bias, then the solution must have at least two parts – trying to address our citation biases head-on by taking a moment that is solely devoted to double-checking ourselves that we cite who should be cited, but often also, firstly, becoming less ‘centristic’ in what we read, teach and discuss.

{ 27 comments }

1

Gareth Wilson 08.22.19 at 8:24 am

“I hypothesize that (all other things equal) we are more likely to cite the work of a junior or mid-career person we know (except if they irritate the hell out of us), then to cite someone we’ve never met.”

Then there’s a serious bias against extremely irritating scholars, not related to the quality of their work. I’ve known some real jerks in academia, I’ll try to be more generous citing them in future.

2

ccc 08.22.19 at 9:45 am

What’s the argument for thinking that Foot and Anscombe specifically should be higher in the list? If anything I’d argue Anscombe should be moved down.

“If the problem we’re trying to address is citation bias, then the solution must have at least two parts – trying to address our citation biases head-on by taking a moment that is solely devoted to double-checking ourselves that we cite who should be cited, but often also, firstly, becoming less ‘centristic’ in what we read, teach and discuss.”

Do you mean citation bias (1) in one’s own activity or (2) in the field more generally?

In either case the proposed remedy seems insufficient.

In the individual case (1) becoming only “less” centristic seems insufficient. Wouldn’t one have to read equally the work of top philosophical work from all countries? Nay, wouldn’t one, if one has a history of such bias, have to going forward read much more work from the margins than from the center, since all the already read (and reread) work that is overrepresentative of the center is already in memory and will, predictably, come to mind easier even if the bias-conscious person tries to double-check themself?

In the general case (2) we can predict that not all active philosophers will act to de-bias which means that if the desired outcome is de-biased representation in future SEP top lists then some countermove must be introduce to balace up the bias introduced by others.

With that in mind compare your proposal to affirmative action programs as a tool to adress underrepresentation in who starts and completes certain high education programs and PhDs. An affirmative action citation policy would be to at minimum prefer a reference to work by someone underrepresented (an individual from a underrepresented group) when equal in quality to work by someone overrepresented or, in a stronger version, to prefer a sufficiently good reference by someone underrepresented even to a clearly better reference by someone overrepresented.

3

Enzo Rossi 08.22.19 at 10:24 am

Sadly, most people only cite mainly in order to be or appear to be in a conversation with someone. And so, in the typical academic schoolyard fashion, most citations go to the cool kids.

Who are the cool kids? Those with the power to amplify their interlocutor’s work, procure job opportunities, fellowships, publishing contacts, etc. Where are the people with this power? Mostly in the ‘centre’ of academia. But I’ve seen non-central with ample resources to invite and hire people do quite well in the citation game despite their peripheral location. After all, if you invite people they will get to know you, and once they know you they may well cite you, etc. All this needn’t be premeditated. It’s just that attention spans and social conventions are what they are.

So, crudely, it seems to me that the current incentive structure makes it the case that, at least in aggregate, citations follow money and opportunities. In which case, since I’m not a big believer in the motivational force of moral argument in relationships between strangers, I would posit that the situation isn’t going to improve unless money and opportunities are distributed much more equally across global academia.

4

HcCarey 08.22.19 at 11:14 am

This is a “well duh” post but it gets to the point I think. I was recently at the Art Institute in Chicago, a great museum, looking at the American Art. I’m not an art historian but I’m reasonably well versed. I was struck by the large number of unfamiliar painting by women artists I’d never heard of, and by the fact that those paintings were doing all the work you want a painting to do: emotionally powerful, intellectually intriguing, historically expressive. It’s really true: free yourself of one set of conventions and a world of new meanings opens up.

Philosophy as a field seems like art in that it’s much more one person alone. I mean we historians can hide behind our footnotes and claim that the meaning revealed itself from fact, but philosophy is especially married to the “great mind thinking greatly” model.

But at the Chicago museum “just as interesting and valuable and intriguing” was what I got much more than “here we see the work of trailblazing dick-swingers moving forward.”

5

alfredlordbleep 08.22.19 at 12:55 pm

Nussbaum has moved up to #9 (since the citation above apparently).
Silly me, as a mere general reader, I admit not recognizing only one name in the top ten—#1.

6

ozajh 08.22.19 at 1:46 pm

bias towards scholars who do not have English as their first language, and who do not work in the US, UK, Canada or Australia.
Seems to me the word “towards” is a bit clumsy here. At first glance it implies the exact opposite of what I believe to be the intended meaning.

7

Ingrid Robeyns 08.22.19 at 2:27 pm

#6, thanks, I’ll change it in “against”.

8

Dominic McIver Lopes 08.22.19 at 2:57 pm

I believe that philosophers cite only those figures whose work on a topic is regarded as canonical, with the idea that impact means being in that conversation. The trouble is that this policy replicates and reinforces any implicit biasses that went into the decision to regard certain figures as doing canonical work. A few years ago I was asked by the editors of an Oxford Handbook to go over my contribution to their volume and to look for any philosophers from underrepresented groups whose work I might have missed. The exercise turned out to be really profitable — I found things that strengthened the chapter. Since then, I’ve adopted a stronger policy: cite like a scientist. That is, I try to cite all the recent literature on my topic, making no judgements as to quality. This goes a long way towards reducing the effects of bias, it can turn up hidden gems, it provides an invaluable bibliographical resource to the reader, and it explicitly resists the idea that there’s a canon.

9

Kiwanda 08.22.19 at 6:59 pm

I’ve adopted a stronger policy: cite like a scientist. That is, I try to cite all the recent literature on my topic, making no judgements as to quality.

Is that what scientists do? No quality judgements at all?

In math-ish areas, citation might mean the paper is:
– building on the cited work, using its theorems to prove new ones
– working on a conjecture stated in the cited work
– working in a sub-area “founded” by the cited work
– proving results that are as strong, or almost as strong, in a more general setting
– proving stronger results, maybe in a more restricted setting
– generalizing the cited results, with others
– working on a “cousin” of the cited work, for example, a distinct instance of the same general problem

Failure to cite sometimes means the missed work is not visible because it’s in a related but distinct field, an inevitable problem, somewhat beyond the issues mentioned in the OP. But people sometimes do things that are more dubious/lazy, some of them beyond outright failure to cite:
– your friend does work A as a followup to work B, or even a long line of work B, B’, B”… You cite only A;
– your paper is a followup to work A, and uses its ideas heavily. Cite A in the middle of a long list of “related work”, but otherwise don’t mention it. Hey, they can’t complain, you cited them, didn’t you?
– your friend’s work A appears in a conference or arXiv after work B appears in a conference or arXiv, but before the more-or-less the same work B’ appears in a journal. Cite A, but only B’, giving the wrong impression of the chronology.

These are hard to spot or quantify, but still are unjust, or at least aggravating.

By the way, there is also some evidence of bias in citation of studies of bias.

10

Chris Stephens 08.22.19 at 7:20 pm

While I agree with Dom’s sentiment, I just want to mention that numerous studies have shown gender biased citation patterns in political science, biology, astronomy, physics , etc. – so “citing like a scientist” isn’t by itself going to do the trick (I don’t mean to suggest that Dom is unaware of this, only that it is worth pointing out that it is not just a “humanities problem” due to philosophy’s quite different citation practices – though perhaps it is worse in philosophy than some other fields.)

11

John Quiggin 08.23.19 at 3:39 am

There’s a related issue, namely that of which topics are considered interesting. Obviously, those at the centre of the academic world get to set the agenda to a large extent. That’s a problem for all disciplines but particularly for social sciences like economics, where the actual importance of any question (as opposed to judgements about it) differs from place to place.

Of the “Top 5” journals in economics (this term is as well defined as, say, the Ivy League), one is the journal of the American Economic Association and two more are the house journals of US universities (Chicago and Harvard)*. Unsurprisingly, this means that topics of interest in the US get much more attention than those relevant to other countries.

* The others are Econometrica, which is mainly technical/theoretical as the name implies and the Review of Economic Studies, the only one without a clear geographical bias.

12

Collin Street 08.23.19 at 7:55 am

JQ’s post basically kicked something into shape for me: isn’t this essentially the same problem as you get with cash economies, where the winners of round N pick the winners of round N+1?

(which means the solution is well understood: transfer payments, involutary taking from (successful group) and giving to (unsuccessful group) to counteract the undamped feedback you’d otherwise get. Or in this context… that approach basically turns into quotas, as near as thirty seconds thought can tell.)

13

ccc 08.23.19 at 8:44 am

@11 John Quiggin: Yes economics is particularly myopic and insular in that regard. Virtually all of economics is maximally speciesist, even the areas of economics that ostensibly cares about “welfare”. Meanwhile the case against speciesism has accumulated within moral philosophy. But even progressive/critical/whatever-the-name economists like yourself are in practice still staunch gatekeepers for an unjustified and never-even-bother-to-try-to-argue-for-it speciecism.

14

Fergus 08.23.19 at 9:13 am

Building on the “citing the cool kids” observation at #3, one thing I noticed surprisingly often at philosophy grad school was the way citations reproduce themselves: if most previous work on a topic has cited some article/author, you sort of have to as well or risk coming across as not familiar with the literature.

I found myself begrudgingly citing articles which I really did not think were very good for this reason. And nobody else seemed to think they were good either – the citations were often of the very cursory “X was one of the early philosophers to discuss the issue” type, not actually drawing on the cited piece in any substantive way – so it really did seem to me like pure reproduction. For obvious reasons that kind of dynamic will tend to reinforce bias by giving more citations to articles with a lot already (and, relatedly, to older work – which is probably less likely again to be written by diverse authors.)

15

A Palmer 08.23.19 at 9:16 am

Dominic’s explanation sounds right—people want to cite the canon, and all sorts of biases feed into who counts as producing “canonical” work.

I think a closely related factor driving these citation practices is that people tend to want to cite “more prominent” philosophers rather than “less prominent” philosophers, whether or not these “more prominent” philosophers’ works are part of the perceived canon on a topic. So you’ll see “prominent” philosophers being cited on topics their work is only tangentially related to, while more relevant but less “prominent” philosophers are entirely overlooked. I’ve seen this happen even when the citing author is highly familiar with the works of these “less prominent” philosophers and even when they are personal friends with the “less prominent” philosophers. There is a tendency to want to cite upwards—to cite the prominent dudes, the major figures, the “citables”.

And, of course, who counts as “prominent” is highly driven by all sorts of biases like the ones mentioned in the article—gender, language, geographic location, etc.

16

JDF 08.23.19 at 11:59 am

I mostly agree with Enzo Rossi about the explanation for why citations go this way. However, I think a more important piece of the explanation is that journal referees tend to get extremely pissy if you do not cite (a) the standard literature, even in just a list within one giant footnote with no comment, and (b) them and their friends. So, I end up citing the ‘canonical’ stuff and also the stuff which I think will appeal to my likely referees because otherwise referee reports contain a series of admonitions about what in general or in particular I simply must cite with no explanation for why it matters to the argument in my essay. Given the narrow way which journals select referees, this means my citations are as narrow and dull as everyone else’s.

I do this regardless of my opinion of the quality of the work or of whether the citation actually adds anything to my particular essay, which is what I naively think is the point of a citation. Given that most journals in philosophy have word limits which include both footnotes and references, I end up limiting other citations. I need the words to try to objection proof my article given the posture of most referees, at least in my areas.

17

anonymousse 08.23.19 at 3:39 pm

“Some of it can be explained away—the list favors the present over the past”

Wouldn’t this have the exact opposite effect being postulated? There are more female philosophers today than in the past: a list favoring the present over the past would then artificially inflate the influence of current (more heavily female) academics than academics from throughout history.
Yet the argument is the exact opposite of that – because reasons, I guess.

“One thing that strikes me is that we never discuss what may be an even stronger bias in academic philosophy – bias against scholars who do not have English as their first language, and who do not work in the US, UK, Canada or Australia.”

This doesn’t strike me as a bug, but a feature. Of course English speakers will cite English writers more-they can actually read them! If the list should be retitled as the Most Cited Authors in the Anglosphere, that would be fine.

“I also would like to put the hypothesis on the table that another factor plays a role – that apart from the obviously influential people, we tend to cite more easily people we know personally.”

How would that create bias? Wouldn’t the scholars who are in that second tier ALSO cite people they know (i.e. other second tier scholars that they meet at regional conferences rather than national level conferences), and thus create cites of their second tier colleagues? For your hypothesis to work, top tier scholars tend to cite people they know personally (other top tier scholars) and 2nd tier scholars tend to NOT cite people they know personally (other 2nd tier scholars). It may be correct-but its not your hypothesis.

“Not only the women who would be candidates for “top 295” lists”

How are women essentially ‘cheated’ out of a list of cited article writers? Isn’t it essentially an objective list (study papers. count cites. Total. Rank)? In other words, the women who would be candidates for top 295 lists if it weren’t for-what? – other than ‘they weren’t cited as often as number 295 on the list’?

“So in an attempt to counter the biases that will occur in those processes, I pause when a full draft of the paper is finished, I go through the paper and the list of references and ask myself: whom of the women or less powerful scholars who have worked on those topics have I overlooked? And for the few papers for which I took those steps, it was easy to add a few references to women and/or people not working in the center of the academic universe.”

Isn’t this intellectually dishonest? If you wrote the paper, and constructed the argument, and only afterwards added women paper citations in order to pad their resumes: they didn’t feed into your argument or paper, BY DEFINITION, did they? You completed your paper, and argument, before you thought about them.
If you are doing this: why not just pick women scholars at random and add their paper’s citations?

anon

18

Harry 08.23.19 at 4:06 pm

Anonymousse — Ingrid was quoting me, and if you go back and reread what she quoted you’ll see what I was interested in explaining away was the low ranking of Foot and Anscombe, who are ranked below many less distinguished (but living) men. I see that the way I phrased it isn’t clear, for which I apologize – but it was a facebook post!

19

Harry 08.23.19 at 4:15 pm

I mean, in terms of impact on the discipline, I’d say they would rank in the top 20, and in terms of whose work will be read in 50 years time — well, very few people above them will still be read then (whereas they will). (Interesting, eg, that Geach, not that he wasn’t excellent, ranked above Anscombe. Do people still read Geach? — I ask as someone whose first publication was about Geach)

20

Leo Casey 08.23.19 at 10:51 pm

Question: do what extent does the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy cover all schools and fields of philosophy, as opposed to favoring some over others? I would be willing to wager that women scholars are not evenly distributed across the field. (In political theory, for example, you would have a hard time finding enough Straussian women to count them on two hands.)

21

ccc 08.24.19 at 6:10 am

@19 Harry: “I mean, in terms of impact on the discipline, I’d say they [Foot and Anscombe] would rank in the top 20”

My hunch differs, but it would be interesting to hear your reasoning here.

“and in terms of whose work will be read in 50 years time — well, very few people above them will still be read then (whereas they will).”

Can’t say I have any hunch at all there. How do you know? Even if true then unclear how relevant that is to discussions about citation patterns in SEP as it is today.

I’d like to see these SEP results juxtaposed with stats from the most frequently used intro level and grad level textbooks from different philosophy subfields. Would Foot and Anscombe rank higher there? My impression from ethics textbooks is that they’re commonly mentioned but mostly in passing. I.e. Foot gets a quick genealogical nod when the trolley problem is delved into.

One drastic way to get away from the “mostly old dudes” pattern, if one worries that the pattern might deter people not fitting the pattern from pursuing philosophy, in at least intro to philosophy textbooks would be to just mostly stop naming references (or remove them from the main text). Treat the child in the pond, trolley problem, and so on as, by now, generic cases and redescribe them in a way maximally useful to prompt good thinking and discussion in the target audience. Many intro textbook usually make use of heavily condensed, context-thin versions of cases already anyway. If the students continue with philosophy (most don’t) they can learn about the people and the history of those discussions at a later time. Hard to implement in history of philosophy themes courses naturally, but e.g. does an intro to ethics text really need to name many names?

@20 Leo Casey:
there was some discussions on the Leiter report blog a while back about omissions in the SEP coverage.

22

Slanted Answer 08.24.19 at 6:07 pm

(Interesting, eg, that Geach, not that he wasn’t excellent, ranked above Anscombe. Do people still read Geach? — I ask as someone whose first publication was about Geach)

Having done a cursory search for Geach and Anscombe on the SEP, it looks like Geach might be benefitting from having done work on reference and identity. His work on these gets cited in both phil language and metaphysics articles. Given the centrality of these subfields (at least at one time) to the discipline, that might explain his rank. There’s also the Frege-Geach problem in metaethics, which looks like it still gets discussed quite a bit.

Anscombe, by contrast, seems mainly cited for Intention, with Modern Moral Philosophy a distant second. Being a smaller subfield, action theory might not have the same amount of coverage as phil language and metaphysics on the SEP. That might be why Geach edges her out.

That was a pretty quick search on my part, however.

23

Matt 08.24.19 at 9:13 pm

Further on Geach, he’s discussed a fair amount in this book I reviewed a few years back in the NDPR: https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/defeasibility-in-philosophy-knowledge-agency-responsibility-and-the-law/

I’m not much of a fan of Geach or Anscombe (or Foot, for that matter), but in certain areas, Geach seems to be cited a fair amount still. My rough impression, though, is that it’s more as an important point, rather than detailed discussion of his work most of the time.

24

Harry 08.25.19 at 2:38 am

“Would Foot and Anscombe rank higher there? My impression from ethics textbooks is that they’re commonly mentioned but mostly in passing. I.e. Foot gets a quick genealogical nod when the trolley problem is delved into.”

Yeah, well — two ‘popular’ books were written a few years ago about trolley problems and one of them managed to have pictures of only male philosophers — none of Anscombe or Foot. Matt’s observation about Geach shows why citations aren’t a good indication of influence — Geach made some points, but Anscombe and Foot reoriented people. Some works become widely cited just because they represent a view, others might be less widely cited but the influence is felt in work that doesn’t cite, and may not be aware of the influence. (My most cited work is, I am certain, cited almost exclusively by people who haven’t read it, and mainly because it is the only philosophical book on a topic that people want to write about. Christ, one of the reviewers didn’t bother to read it, as he reveals by criticizing it for concluding the opposite of what it concludes).

“Treat the child in the pond, trolley problem, and so on as, by now, generic cases and redescribe them in a way maximally useful to prompt good thinking and discussion in the target audience. Many intro textbook usually make use of heavily condensed, context-thin versions of cases already anyway. If the students continue with philosophy (most don’t) they can learn about the people and the history of those discussions at a later time. Hard to implement in history of philosophy themes courses naturally, but e.g. does an intro to ethics text really need to name many names?”

Yes! and No! I mean, yes we absolutely should do that and no, of course it doesn’t need to. The best pedagogy would use texts that are not written for scholars, but are custom written for critical scrutiny by actual students. I don’t know whether colleagues could be convinced to adopt such texts though.

25

Orange Watch 08.25.19 at 5:12 am

Matt’s observation about Geach shows why citations aren’t a good indication of influence — Geach made some points, but Anscombe and Foot reoriented people. Some works become widely cited just because they represent a view, others might be less widely cited but the influence is felt in work that doesn’t cite, and may not be aware of the influence.

My adviser made what seems to me like a parallel point WRT technical research when I was in grad school, and most of the people listening to her didn’t find it intuitive then either. It was, if time has not rotted my memory, that between a researcher who develops a widely-accepted algorithm which optimizes a problem and a researcher who develops a widely-accepted set of metrics to measure performance in that same problem, the former may be the scholar who is most widely recognized, but their influence in the field is typically actually less dramatic, as they’re solving the problem the second scholar defined, prioritized, and shaped the boundaries of. Foundations and toolmaking tools are important even when they’re not flashy.

26

Matt 08.25.19 at 7:01 am

Several years ago, when producing a ranking of law school faculty on “scholarly impact”, Brian Leiter presented to following reasons to worry about citation rankings, as well as some counter-thoughts to the worries. They are not exactly applicable to these rankings of citations in the SEP, for various reasons that I’ll not take the time to go in to but that should be clear enough to people who know what SEP is (and what law reviews are like), but many of the same points are at least fairly relevant, and somewhat relevant t Harry’s point, I think.
*********************************************************************************
Indeed, we might identify six kinds of phenomena at work here which skew the correlation between citation and quality.

First, there is the industrious drudge: the competent but uninspired scholar who simply churns out huge amounts of writing in his or her field. Citation practices of law reviews being what they are, the drudge quickly reaches the threshold level of visibility at which one is obliged to cite his or her work in the obligatory early footnotes of any article in that field. The work is neither particularly good, nor especially creative or groundbreaking, but it is there and everyone knows it is there and it must be duly acknowledged.

Second, there is the treatise writer, whose treatise is standardly cited because like the output of the drudge it is a recognized reference point in the literature. Unlike the drudge, the authors of leading treatises are generally very accomplished scholars, but with the devaluation of doctrinal work over the past twenty years, an outstanding treatise writer—with a few exceptions—is not necessarily highly regarded as a legal scholar.

Third, there is the “academic surfer,” who surfs the wave of the latest fad to sweep the legal academy, and thus piles up citations because law reviews, being creatures of fashion, give the fad extensive exposure. Any study counting citations, depending on when it is conducted, runs the risk of registering the “impact” of the fad in disproportion to its scholarly merit or long-term value or interest.

Fourth, there is work that is cited because it constitutes “the classic mistake”: some work is so wrong, or so bad, that everyone acknowledges it for that reason. The citation and organizational preferences of student-edited law reviews exacerbate this problem. Since the typical law-review article must first reinvent the wheel, by surveying what has come before, the classic mistake will earn an obligatory citation in article after article in a particular field, even though the point of the article may be to show how wrong the classic mistake is. True, some authors of classic mistakes may have excellent reputations; but who among us aspires to be best remembered for a “grand” mistake?

Fifth, citation tallies are skewed towards more senior faculty, so that faculties with lots of “bright young things” (as the Dean of one famous law school likes to call top young scholars) won’t fare as well, while faculties with once-productive dinosaurs will. On the other hand, by looking only at citations since 2000, we have reduced the distorting effect of this factor.

Sixth, citation studies are highly field-sensitive. Law reviews publish lots on constitutional law, and very little on tax. Scholars in the public law fields or who work in critical theory get lots of cites; scholars who work on trusts, comparative law, and general jurisprudence do not.

So for all these reasons, one would expect scholarly impact to be an imperfect measure of scholarly quality. But an imperfect measure may still be an adequate measure, and that is almost certainly true of citation rates as a proxy for impact as a proxy for reputation or quality.
*******************************************************************************

27

Saurs 08.25.19 at 10:12 am

anonymousse 17

“One thing that strikes me is that we never discuss what may be an even stronger bias in academic philosophy – bias against scholars who do not have English as their first language, and who do not work in the US, UK, Canada or Australia.”

This doesn’t strike me as a bug, but a feature. Of course English speakers will cite English writers more-they can actually read them! If the list should be retitled as the Most Cited Authors in the Anglosphere, that would be fine.

Yes, she’s referring to philosophers published in English and but whose first language is not English (and who speak with a noticeable ‘accent’) and, yes, this is a noted problem in contemporary Anglophone analytic philosophy. Often these same scholars are located within “marked” philosophical sub-categories/specializations (post-colonial, racial, multidisciplinary), perceived as less prestigious and viewed as residing outside or uninformed by the dominant tradition, creating (brace for it) intersections of bias against them. Add to that that Anglophone academics are uniquely skittish about reading and citing untranslated work in other languages; of course, modern Anglophones within and without the academy are notoriously monolingual.

Comments on this entry are closed.