Yesterday, I set a little quiz: who were the most cited four philosophers working in 'top ten' departments in the US in 1982? A little obscure, I know, but as I already had the answers it was easy to set the questions.
I am sure the suspense is killing you. Adding together citations from the Arts and Humanities Citation Index and the Social Science Citation Index, the most cited philosopher working in the top ten US universities in 1982 was Thomas Kuhn. Number two was John Rawls, and number three John Searle. So who was number four (number one in Arts and Humanities alone)? Paul Ricoeur. Anyone who ‘guessed’ this must have already known the answer, surely? In fact I tried this out on someone who was a faculty member at Chicago, and hence a colleague of Ricoeur’s when the survey was done and he couldn’t come up with the answer, even when I told him it was a Chicago philosopher.
This information comes from ‘The Editor’s Page’ from the APQ October 1984, which I glanced at when it first came out, and have brought to mind from time to time, whenever issues of citations or quantitative metrics come up. This is a hot topic in the UK at the moment, in the light of proposed changes to the research assessment exercise (RAE), and so revisiting the APQ article is particularly interesting for us. Are citations a good proxy for research quality? The answer, on this evidence, may well be ‘if taken over a long enough period, probably better than anything else, and not terrible, but still pretty rough’.
The article compares the ranking of the top ten departments, according to the National Research Council, with their citation records. The departments are the usual suspects from the 1980s: in order - Harvard, Princeton, Pittsburgh, UCLA, Berkeley, Chicago, Stanford, Michigan, MIT, Cornell. This roughly correlates with citations, although MIT rises and UCLA falls when ranked that way.
What conclusions can we draw from this? Here are some random observations:
1. The citations to Kuhn’s will typically, I suspect, be footnotes of the form ‘in Thomas Kuhn’s sense’, accompanying the word ‘paradigm’ or ‘paradigm shift’. Lesson 1: ‘capturing the discourse’, in the sense used by some of our post-modern friends, wins you a lot of citations.
2. Work that manages to cross disciplinary boundaries can benefit from an ‘amplifying effect’, if it is treated as representative of a literature or tradition.
3. There is surely a difference between (mere) citations and what we might call ‘engagements’ where someone’s work is used or argued against, rather than merely cited in a round-up of ‘honestly, I do know the literature’-style footnotes. Within engagements we might distinguish ‘positive’, which explicitly use and build on the details of the cited work, and ‘negative’, which try to refute it. Of course some engagements do both. An index of ‘positive engagements’ could be interesting: might it correlate fairly well with the platonic form of true philosophical merit?
4. Switching topic, one remarkable thing is how many of the top philosophers from 1982 remain on our reading lists today. OK, Kuhn is not so often studied in detail, and Ricoeur as unlikely now as then, but Rawls and Searle are still central figures. The other members of the top twenty, in order, were Putnam, Feyerbend, Fodor, Hempel, Lewis, Nozick, Toulmin, Kripke, Sellars, Rescher, Suppes, Barry, Harman, van Frassen, Stalnaker, and W. Salmon. The first woman, Judy Thompson, comes in at about number 25. Some philosophers were not considered because they worked in lower ranked departments, such as Nagel at NYU. Some, like Quine, had, I assumed, already retired. Also no one working in the UK or elsewhere was included. The absence of Davidson, though, is surprising – not among the top five at Berkely that year, and hence behind Hans Sluga. Could this be a clerical error? Or was he still at Chicago (and thereby behind Adkins)? Despite the fact that the list is incomplete, and fashion has shifted away from the philosophy of science which is heavily represented on this list, the influence of the top twenty remains strong. Should we conclude that Philosophy hit some sort of peak in the early 1980s? Or does it always look better 25 years later? We can hope, I suppose.