journal prestige & talent that can recognize talent
Brayden King has a thoughtful post about journal prestige in Pub Sociology today, based on a new article by business professor William Starbuck ("How much better are the most-prestigious journals? the statistics of academic publication." Organization Science 16:180-200). After analyzing correlations across reviewers and impact factors across first, second, and third-tier journals, Starbuck concludes that there is a lot of overlap in article quality across different prestige strata and the top journals may not be getting the top articles. Sociology is characterized as especially "egalitarian" in this respect, perhaps reflecting dissensus in the discipline on quality markers. King writes, "Does sociology's lack of consensus lead to more randomness in the review process? If so, does this mean we place too much emphasis on publication in top-tier journals? The study also suggests an important strategic plan for young sociologists seeking tenure - the best way to become visible is to write a lot of articles."
Hmmm. I won't engage Starbuck's methods here, though he may be drawing grande conclusions based on tall evidence (sorry, couldn't resist. "Tall" is the small one, right?). I could only offer the kind of safe and useless advice that department chairs always give: you should probably both aim for top journals and write a lot of stuff. First, I get way better review(er)s at top journals -- even when they torpedo my manuscripts (I realize, of course, that this depends on area and epistemology; your mileage may vary). A quote by producer Jerry Wald sums this up best: "There's no shortage of talent. There's only a shortage of talent that can recognize talent." I also get much better review(er)s today at all journals than I did when I was starting out. As any editor will tell you, they have a terrible time getting good reviews and don't want to "waste" a top reviewer. Second, most of us are lousy at predicting which work will resonate with readers and reviewers. If the main piece(s) of your diss or your big grant project get bounced from top journals, you need to have a few other options. I had high hopes, and maybe too much confidence, in a paper that was summarily rejected this year. Other papers, that I had my doubts about, somehow spoke to people and had a much easier time finding homes. I wouldn't necessarily attribute this to randomness, but to perspective. Something that jazzes up my friends in criminology or life course studies at Minnesota may not travel particularly well.
I do like the idea that sociology is more egalitarian than econ, psych, and management studies. We should be readers of "ignoble texts," especially now that the abstracts make it so easy to find the good ideas there.