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Alan McKinnon – Professor of Logistics

THE 
LOGISTICS BLOG

Current issues in logistics and transport

Who cares about journal rankings?

In a newly-published paper I return to a debate I first joined five years ago on the ranking of academic journals. On this issue I basically have three concerns. The first is the use of a journal’s ranking as a proxy measure of the quality of all the papers it publishes. This practice is seriously flawed though increasingly underpins assessment of the research performance of academics and institutions. My second concern is about the extent to which journal rankings are now influencing research strategy and funding, staff recruitment and promotion and the behaviour and well-being of academics. I’m also particularly concerned about the negative impact of this obsession with journal rankings on the study of logistics / supply chain management (SCM). This is because most of the specialist journals in the field occupy relatively low positions in the main ranking schemes – quite unfairly in my opinion. As a result, the subject is at risk of being marginalised in the academic business world and those working in the field forced to reorient their research to adhere to the methodologies and paradigms of the top-tier journals.

Any non-academics reading this blog are probably feeling that this has little to do with them. In many circles the term ‘academic’ is used as a synonym for ‘irrelevant’ and, in that sense, this debate must be seem fairly academic. After all, managers very seldom consult journal articles during their working lives. Many only encounter them when doing a university-based course and required to reference an assignment. Even government planners and policy-makers, whose decision-making is supposed to be ‘evidence-based’, rarely pay much attention to the academic literature. So as this literature tends to be the exclusive preserve of ‘scholars’, why should anyone outside academia bother about this or that journal ranking?

In my view the main raison d’etre for university research on logistics / SCM is to provide relevant advice to what might loosely be called the practitioner community. Logistics is surely one of the most pragmatic of all human activities, vital for economic development, social welfare and security. If it were an obscure subject, say the study of irregular verbs in Medieval German poetry, one could accept that research outputs would be confined to academic circles. But what is the point of academic research on logistics / SCM if it does not inform business practice and policy-making? This is significant because higher-rated journals tend to be more theoretical and less accessible to practitioners by virtue of their subject focus, writing style and / or mathematical complexity. The desperate pursuit of a publication in these journals is therefore widening the gap between theory and practice and reducing the importance of business relevance as a criterion of research performance. This is neither in the interest of those running our logistics systems and supply chains nor the academics devoting their lives to studying them.

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© Professor Alan McKinnon 2017

Kuehne Logistics University
Hamburg
Germany

contactme@alanmckinnon.co.uk

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© Professor Alan McKinnon 2017

 

Kuehne Logistics University
Hamburg
Germany

 

contactme@alanmckinnon.co.uk

 

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