How research evaluations transformed the British social sciences

What happens when we measure the worth of knowledge? Since 1986, this issue has been at the core of the British state’s attempts to assess and reward scholarly work in British universities. Faced with dwindling budgets and growing calls for public accountability, UK science administrators have periodically evaluated and scored the work of academics employed in British universities in an attempt to distribute scarce research funding to those who use it best. In The Quantified Scholar (Columbia University Press), Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra studies the impact of these evaluation exercises on social scientists, showing how they unintentionally led to a less diverse, more disciplinary intellectual landscape.

Combining interviews and original computational analyses, The Quantified Scholar provides a compelling account of how scores, metrics, and standardized research evaluations altered the incentives of scientists and administrators by rewarding forms of scholarship that were closer to established disciplinary canons. In doing so, research evaluations amplified publication hierarchies and longstanding forms of academic prestige that are part of scholarly vocations at the detriment of intellectual and organizational diversity. Slowly but surely, they reshaped academic departments, the interests of scholars, the organization of disciplines, and the employment conditions of scientists in the United Kingdom.

As exercises implemented by academics through practices of peer review, however, The Quantified Scholar presents alternatives to existing forms of research evaluation. Joining calls to re-imagine academia for the future, it invites readers to imagine new forms of vocational solidarity that, while firmly aware of scholars’ public responsibilities, place the production of fair forms of science at the center of our craft.

The introduction of The Quantified Scholar is available here.