Scandal in British political science!

One of the most important factors determining a university department’s performance in the research assessment exercise was whether it was represented on the RAE judging panel, a study has found.

The study, which is published in the current issue of the journal Political Studies Review, found that the presence of a member of department among the judges was the second most influential factor determining the results. The single most important factor was the number of times the work of a department’s researchers was cited by their peers.

“Metrics or peer review? Evaluating the 2001 UK research assessment exercise in political science”, by Linda Butler and Ian McAllister of the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, examines the political science panel results from the 2001 RAE – the most recent exercise before the final RAE in December 2008.

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One senior professor of politics, who asked not to be named, said the biases in 2008 were “even more marked” than they had been in the 2001 exercise.

“The politics departments that had a representative on the panel in 2001 but not in 2008 all dropped in the ranking,” he said. “The departments with members on the 2008 panel all did well.”

He said that although it was true that panel members were not allowed to evaluate work submitted by their own departments, it was the “bonding” between judges at meetings and on awaydays that caused problems.

“They (want to) avoid embarrassing colleagues … leading to inflation of the grades awarded to departments with panel members at the expense of better departments without (representation).”

The comments to the article seem to be mostly about Sheffield, which apparently had two people on the panel and was classified as “world-leading.” Dunno I can’t think of anyone in that department… but I’m pretty myopic.


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