Would John Rawls have been submitted for the REF?

Since the mid-1980s, UK university departments have undergone periodic reviews of research quality. The current process is called the Research Excellence Framework (REF), replacing the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). As part of these reviews, academics submit four pieces of published work (fewer for early career researchers), to be graded by members of an expert subject-panel.

One complaint I’ve often heard at conferences is that the great political philosopher John Rawls didn’t publish enough to have been submitted in the RAE or REF, if he’d been at a UK university. The implication is that (a) if Rawls couldn’t make the REF, then the REF is a joke, and (b) the REF undermines our ability to write pioneering, systematic studies.

Now, there may be some truth in (b). But I don’t think that (a) is right. I’m attaching a list of Rawls’s publications, from Samuel Freeman, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Rawls.

It shows that Rawls produced an entirely respectable number of books and journal articles.

'Look at how much I wrote last year.'

‘Look at how much I wrote last year.’

True, Rawls might have had a few difficulties if there’d been an RAE covering the years 1978-84, when he ‘only’ published one article and two book chapters. But the article was in the Journal of Philosophy, a leading philsophy journal, and one of the book chapters was a Tanner lecture, an extremely prestigious publication.

And we shouldn’t ignore the counterfactual: if Rawls had known that he was required to submit four articles by 1984, it wouldn’t have been hard for him to amend his publication strategy accordingly. Might this have slowed down his efforts to write pioneering, systematic studies? It’s possible, although from his list of publications I can’t see that the effect would have been too troubling.

To use the ugly language of UK academia, then, John Rawls was eminently ‘REFfable’.

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1 Comment

  1. Gemma

     /  June 19, 2013

    The same arguement is also used for Einstein, who only had an h-index of 4. 4 publications cited over a thousand times each, but only 4 publications nonetheless.

    Reply

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