- Challenging ISI Thomson Scientific’s Journal Citation Reports:Deconstructing “Objective,” “Impact,” and “Global”
The Thomson Scientific Database, still commonly and conveniently—though inaccurately—known by its former name ISI (short for Institute for Scientific Information), is generally considered the top arbiter of the quality of learned journals. Academics all over the world find it prestigious to have their articles published in the journals included in the master journal list of the ISI Web of Knowledge. Publishers of non-ISI journals often make it their objective to have their journals listed in ISI, not only because of the prestige but also because librarians usually make decisions on subscriptions based on ISI. International surveys of universities, such as the Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings 2006, have taken ISI data as crucial determinants of the quality of faculty and research. In order to be ranked internationally and, thus, to attract both students and funding, universities urge their researchers to publish in ISI journals and to have their works cited by scholars writing in ISI journals. Intellectually and financially, therefore, ISI wields tremendous power over faculty, administrators, publishers, and funding agencies.
The Web site of Thomson Scientific, http://scientific.thomson.com, describes the ISI Journal Citation Reports as "the recognized authority for evaluating journals [that] presents quantifiable statistical data that provides a systematic, objective way to evaluate the world's leading journals and their impact and influence in the global research community." If we focus on three words in this description, namely, objective, impact, and global, we will see that ISI is far from objective, that the impact that its journals have is a bit illusory, and that the word global stretches the truth about the master journal list.
I will begin with the field in which I do most of my professional work—literary studies. Since not everyone is an expert in literary studies, allow me to start with some elementary principles familiar to those already involved with literature but that may not be so obvious to those who are not. Chronologically, first, we have writers creating literary texts, which I broadly define as works written with the use of the imagination, [End Page 7] hence the usual term imaginative literature or creative writing. After these literary texts are produced, certain readers try to interpret them, producing what is known as literary criticism, hence the term literary critics. The next step after literary criticism is thinking of the works of literature—as well as the works of literary criticism—as a whole; this more generalized type of literary study is usually called literary theory. From the progression of literary text to critical text to theoretical text, we can see that a lot depends on the quantity and the quality of the literary texts that are at the beginning of the process. Without sounding simplistic, this is the familiar "garbage in, garbage out" syndrome.
As I have argued in several international forums, including that of the Modern Language Association of America (which is the largest professional association of literary critics and theorists in the world), there is something terribly wrong with literary theories that are based on only a few literary texts, namely, those texts available either originally or in translation in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and other European languages. One of the advantages of not having been born in the world of European languages is that literary theorists like myself have read most of the works written in European languages, just as European and American critics have; but, unlike European and American critics, we have read as well the works written in the languages we were born into, such as Tagalog, Filipino, Cebuano, Ilocano, Mandarin, Japanese, and the other languages spoken and written by Filipinos. (There are more than 100 distinct Philippine vernacular languages and thousands of dialects of these languages.) Philippine critics have read everything European and American critics have read, but European and American critics have not read everything that Philippine critics have read. As I have asked—not completely rhetorically—in conferences, how can literary theories that are based on only a few literary texts be considered valid? What kind of literary theory...