The Network of Law Reviews: Citation Cartels, Scientific Communities, and Journal Rankings

From the abstract for Oren Perez et al., The Network of Law Reviews: Citation Cartels, Scientific Communities, and Journal Rankings, Modern Law Review, Forthcoming 2018/2019:

Research evaluation is increasingly being influenced by quantitative data. The legal field has not escaped the impact of such metrics. Law schools and legal journals are being ranked by multiple global rankings. The key rankings for law schools are the Times Higher Education and Shanghai University Subject Rankings for law and SSRN Ranking for U.S. and International law schools. Law Journals are measured by four different rankings: Clarivate Analytics Web of Science Journal Citation Reports (JCR), CiteScore from Elsevier, Scimago and Washington and Lee. Despite the opposition from the scientific community these metrics continue to flourish.

The article argues journal rankings (as other metrics) are the consequence of theory-laden choices that can influence their structure and their pretense of objectivity is therefore merely illusory. We focus on the influential ranking of law journals in JCR and critically assess its structure and methodology. In particular, we consider the question of the existence of tacit citation cartels in the U.S. law reviews market and the attentiveness of the JCR for the potential influence of such tacit cartel. To examine this question we studied a sample of 90 journals included in the category of Law in the JCR: 45 U.S. student-edited (SE) and 45 peer-reviewed (PR) journals. We found that PR and SE journals are more inclined to cite members of their own class, forming two separated communities. Close analysis revealed that this phenomenon is more pronounced in SE journals, especially generalist ones. This tendency reflects, we argue, a tacit cartelistic behavior, which is a product of deeply entrenched institutional structures. Because U.S. SE journals produce much more citations than PR journals, the fact that their citations are directed almost exclusively to SE journals elevates their ranking in the Journal Citation Reports in a way that distorts the structure of the ranking. This distortion can hamper the production of legal knowledge. We discuss several policy measures that can counter the adverse effects of this situation.

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