Re: AMERICAN-SCIENTIST-OPEN-ACCESS-FORUM Digest - 8 Aug 2008 to 9 Aug 2008 (#2008-153)

From: (wrong string) édon Jean-Claude <jean.claude.guedon_at_UMONTREAL.CA>
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2008 09:22:27 -0400

I had always assumed that this list dealt with policy issues, not styles of expression.

Just a remark done with a smile (and no cynicism). And indeed, as I have had the opportunity to express it a little while ago, "le style, c'est l'homme" (Buffon).

As for creating better indicators, I am not involved in this kind of work, but I am all for it, of course. Who can be against motherhood and apple pie (and Yves Gingras)?

Jean-Claude Guédon

-----Original Message-----
From: American Scientist Open Access Forum on behalf of Yves Gingras
Sent: Sun 8/10/2008 3:41 PM
Subject: Re: AMERICAN-SCIENTIST-OPEN-ACCESS-FORUM Digest - 8 Aug 2008 to 9 Aug 2008 (#2008-153)

It could be expected that my colleague Jean-Claude Guedon would offer
himself to teach us in his usual cynical, smiling, tongue-in-cheek manner
the simplistic and obvious constructivist explanation about what ³sticks² in
society; as if we, poor naïve, did not know this basic fact that, in
society, all representations are born and die in struggles...

But has he says: this is ³somewhat irrelevant² to my real point which is:
by fighting these absurd measures which can in fact generate stupid
university policies we can contribute to better ranking and policies. For
following his logic if people would choose their universities on the basis
of Feng Shui or even Chineese horsocope (as some may do already) then we
would have to live with it if for some contingent reason it happened to
³stick² and be used by students and politicians... This remembers me <
believe me: it is true!< a deputy minister of SCIENCE who choose his
collaborators based on their astral signs!...

But one can see things differently and recall that it took years for
Canadian universites to pull out of Macelan¹s rankings, but they did. That
was a minimum logical step to do even though to make money Maclean will of
course continue to publish it on its own; but at least universities will not
use their own money to create that misconceived ranking and in this way give
it credibility. So, the same with Shnaghai and Web-rankings: a systematic
destruction by people who work in that field (and I may recall that as
Scientific Director of the Observatoire des sciences et des technologies
(OST), I have been working on research evaluation for more than 10 years
with many Ministries and Universities and Research centers and know how to
construct a well defined indicator of research impact based on publications
and citations. I also know how to recognize false indicators by analyzing
their properties. Of course they can be debated and interpreted < as my
colleague love to do constatnly< but they are like inflation index or
unemployment index: based on controlled and coherent data so that even
interpretations are constrained.

So, beyond (and after) the basic constructivist soiology of my colleague one
can go a step further, which I took as implicit in my text: use every
opportunity to recall to managers and politicians that 1) Shanghai
indicators and the bizarre one on Web-visibility are ill-conceived and 2) we
can create much better indicators 3) using bad indicators can lead to
dangerous policies like bad medical diagnostic may lead to giving the wrong

As someone who has a certain expertise in indicators, I prefer to try to
convince people to use good instead of bad indicatgors and I keep my
sociology 101 for my classes. And of course ³good² and ³bad² are also
socially constructed as my colleague will urge to add... Bu as a social
agent, I fight (naively?) using my expertise (as intellectuals should do) to
make sure the conceptual houses that are built in our society are not based
on ill-conceived plans. For in analalogy with real houses, badly constructed
ones generate strcutural problems and eventually fall; sometimes on real

But I stop here and I will NOT do like my good friend Stevan: loose much
more time in dilettante and unending exchanges with our colleague about
obvious facts that lead to more talk and less action. For one can be content
with observing the world from above, with the smile of those in the know, or
one can try to make it less absurd, even if that means going against the
dominant wind.

Yves Gingras

De : Guédon Jean-Claude <jean.claude.guedon_at_UMONTREAL.CA>
Date : Sat, 9 Aug 2008 08:03:20 -0400
Objet : Re: University ranking

The criticism of the university rankings in terms of measuring "what" is
quite correct. However, it is also somewhat irrelevant. What is important in
the end, whether we like it or not (and I certainly do not like it any more
than the previous commentators) is that it creates a benchmark that sticks,
so to speak, and is used. If there ever was a good example of social
construction of "reality", this is it. What is at stake here is not quality
measurement; rather, it is "logo" building for a globalized knowledge
economy. If administrators, the press and governmental bureaucracies pay
attention - and they obviously have begun to do so - then the strategy

The solution? In the absence of an institutionally effective critique, all
we can hope for is the existence of competing and somewhat divergent
indices... But I fear that, in the end, they will converge in one way or
another and will create all the distortions that such artificial and,
ultimately, manipulative metrics produce.

Jean-Claude Guédon
Received on Mon Aug 11 2008 - 15:02:32 BST

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