Call for papers: World-Conference on Pluricentric Languages and their Non-Dominant Varieties

The 4th conference of the Working Group on Non-Dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages (WGNDV) will take place in Graz, Austria on 8-11 July 2015. The aim and scope of the conference are described by the conference organisers as follows:

The conference is devoted to the description of pluricentric languages and in particular of non-dominant national varieties of plc. [pluricentric] languages. These are the varieties that are small by the number of their speakers and their symbolic power, and are not the primary norm-setting centres of the language. They may often be falsely attributed the status of a “dialect”, and have little or no codification of their norms. Typically, nd-varieties often have to legitimate their norms towards the dominant varieties etc.

Additional information, a definition and a list of non-dominant varieties can be found here.

The conference aims to describe the pluricentric languages and non-dominant varieties from around the world, including Albanian, Aramaic, Aromunian, Basque, Bengali, Chinese, Croatian, Guaraní, Hebrew, Hindi / Urdu, Hungarian, Kiswahili / Swahili, Kurdish, Mapudungun, Occitan, Pashto, Punjabi, Quechua, Tamil, Romanian, Russian and others. In addition, the scope of the conference includes non-dominant varieties of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Russian.

One aspect of the conference that will likely be of interest to readers of this blog is the strand on non-dominant varieties of English, which I understand to include research into World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca.

The conference languages will be English and German, but sections in specific languages are also envisaged, provided enough presentations are submitted for a section to be created. It is expected that the following sections will be created: English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, a general section and language technology section. Although the oral presentation may be held at the language of the section, the presentation should be written in English.

Call for papers

Scholars interested in presenting at the conference are are invited to submit proposals for papers and workshops. Papers (25 minutes followed by 5-minute discussion) are expected to provide information about the situation of pluricentric languages and non-dominant varieties, including ‘new’ pluricentric languages, or to contribute towards the theory and methods of description of pluricentric languages and non-dominant varieties. Abstracts for papers should not exceed 3,000 characters (1 page A4) including 4 keywords.

Workshops, which will be allocated 90 minutes, should focus on specific languages and the non-dominant varieties varieties associated with them, as well as methodological challenges in the description of non-dominant varieties. Abstracts for workshops should outline the overall structure of the workshop and provide names of the participants, and have a maximum length of 5,000 characters (1 1/2 page A4) including 4-8 keywords.

All abstracts should be written in English, and are to be submitted by 30 March 2015 using the conference registration page, or alternatively by email to ndv-conf [at] pluricentriclanguages [dot] org (as MS-Word attachments). The prorposals will be peer-reviewed, and notification of acceptance will be given on 15 April 2015. Selected papers will be published in an edited collection by Peter Lang Verlag.

Important dates

Abstract submission deadline 30 March 2015
Notification of acceptance 15 April 2015
Registration deadline 20 June 2015
Final draft submission deadline 30 September 2015

Recently read: Paying for peer review; Nobel laureates on Raif Badawi; & dealing with retractions

In this week’s collection of articles, I would like to invite you to reflect on the following questions:

  • Should peer-reviewers be compensated for their efforts? Should authors pay for this compensation? There’s a new Open Access journal that promises to do just that.
  • What is the role of academics in repressive regimes? A group of 18 Nobel laureates believes that academics in Saudi Arabia should either speak out or face marginalisation.
  • When a paper is retracted, should funding agencies reclaim any public funds that were associated with said paper? Leonid Schneider argues that such a policy would be beneficial for the public, universities and science.

New open-access journal promises to pay peer reviewers

According to an article in the Scholarly Kitchen, the University of California Press are launching a new Open Access (OA) mega-journal which will focus on the life and biomedical sciences, ecology and environmental science, and the social and behavioral sciences. A distinctive feature of the new journal, Collabra, is that a part of the Article Processing Charges (APCs, reportedly $875) will be set aside as a reward for peer-reviewers. Here’s how Alison Mudditt, the University of Caiffornia Press director, describes the plan:

The pay-forward component of the model sets Collabra apart. Our goal here is to create a truly self-sustaining model that supports more OA publishing, especially in fields without the kind of research grants that have traditionally funded APCs. A portion of every APC goes into a central fund for editors and reviewers. At intervals throughout the year, editors and reviewers can elect to pay forward to the Collabra APC Waiver Fund, pay forward to an institutional/library OA fund, or receive a cash payment. Collabra provides the research community a meaningful choice about where to invest the value generated through peer review labor.

More to read: Additional information on the new journal has been published by Science. The question of whether to pay peer reviewers had been debated in the past (e.g., 1, 2) but there seems to be no consensus on the topic. An older (2008) article from the Times Higher Education suggested that the value of unpaid peer-review is in the region of £1.9bn.

Nobel laureates take a stand for freedom of expression

Earlier this week, the Independent published a letter by 18 Nobel laureates, which is addressed at academics at the King Abdulah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. In the letter, the laureates tactfully remind their colleagues that academic collaboration and the goodwill of the scholarly community are requisite to the university’s plans to become “a leading institution for education and research“. This is followed by a tactfully expressed, but very clear, message that outrages against freedom of expression, such as the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi, will doubtless lead to the marginalisation of academics affiliated with Saudi universities:

We write out of concern that the fabric of international cooperation may be torn apart by dismay at the severe restrictions on freedom of thought and expression still being applied to Saudi Arabian society. […] We are confident that influential voices in KAUST will be heard arguing for the freedom to dissent, without which no institution of higher learning can be viable. […] We are aware that change comes by degrees, but we write at this time since it seems, a mere five years into KAUST’s history, to be a crucial time for KAUST. The undersigned friends of KAUST will be there to support you in asserting the values of freedom that we are all agreed are essential to the future of a University in this twenty first century, and that will determine the success of the extraordinary venture which you lead.

The message seems to be very simple: if KAUST wants to be regarded as a credible institution of higher education globally, the academics working there need to live up to their responsibilities as intellectuals who can influence decision making. It is unclear what impact such a move will have on the Saudi ruling class, who seem keen to import into the kingdom the prestige associated with high-profile research, while keeping out some of the values associated with higher education, such as a commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of belief, and freedom of association.

Should universities refund grant money that went into retracted articles?

In an article recently published in Retraction Watch, Leonid Schneider outlines a proposal to make universities financially accountable for the research published by scientists they employ. Schneider notes that currently it is hard for funding agencies to reclaim funds that were used to finance fraudulent research, and suggests that universities, who “readily claim their chunk of fame and cash showers when their labs publish a high-impact paper” should also be held responsible when things go wrong. Crucially, he proposes that whenever a grant application is supported by publications that are later found to be fraudulent, then the university of the grant-seeker should return any funds received to the funding agency. Here are some benefits of this proposal, in the Schneider’s words:

The benefits of a refund clause are many. Primarily, the repaid grant money will become again available to the more honest applicants, those who were left empty-handed back in the previous rounds. This is particularly important in today’s climate of austerity and budget cuts. But the side effects will be even more substantial. What faculty or board of directors will still support and protect a PI [Primary Investigator] who caused their (usually notoriously cash-strapped) institutions to face such a hefty fine? […] PIs will be more mindful which kind of research attitude they encourage in their labs. Nowadays, some office-bound PIs hardly know or actually want to know how exactly the experimental results were obtained, as long as they fit the PI’s predictions and expectations. Thus, even a retraction can be shrugged off with a hint to an allegedly criminally-minded PhD student or postdoc, a snake at one’s honest bosom. Yet it will not be that simple when your employer comes after your tenure and your lab, waving a grant agency’s spectacular bill.

Schneider’s comments are indicative of increasing frustration with the embarrassing number of papers that are found to be fraudulent, and a widespread belief that not enough is being done to address the problem. Whether such a proposal would have any lasting effects to the research culture is a matter of opinion, though. It is equally possible that the only effect of such proposal might be a requirement that universities purchase insurance policies, the expense for which will be borne by all researchers.

Featured image by Dan Dzurisin @ Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND

How are we encouraging predatory publishers?

Recently, Scholarly Open Access, an authoritative blog that tracks the activity of predatory publishers, issued a warning about The International Journal of English Language, Literature & Humanities, a fraudulent journal that seems to target ELT professionals. In what is, sadly, a very common practice, the journal offered to publish articles in four days (!) in exchange for a $100 article processing charge. The journal promised that the articles would be peer-reviewed (clearly a false claim, given the time-frame involved), which would help authors further their career plans, or at very least flatter their vanity.

Jeffrey Beall, the author of Scholarly Open Access, notes:

I am seeing an increase in the number of questionable open-access journals on TESL. There are many TESL professors around the world, including many needing to publish to earn tenure and promotion.

In the same post, he attributes the proliferation of predatory publishers to the fact that the criteria for assigning academic credit in some higher education systems are too inclusive. This is an insight consistent with my experience: in the paragraphs that follow, I shall present some examples showing how academic publications are used as assessment instruments in Greek education and higher education. This paves the way for a discussion about how things might be done differently, which will be the topic of a future post.

Assessing university lecturers

When I used to work in the Epirus Institute of Technology, from time to time we were required to submit a form listing our scholarly output for the past five years (below). The form had different columns for books, refereed journals, non-refereed journals, contributions to refereed conference proceedings, and non-refereed ones, chapters in edited collections, refereed conference presentations, non-refereed conference presentations, and other publications. Each of these categories was assigned a different number of points, and their sum was used (along with other criteria) to rank adjunct lecturers, who competed for a limited number of posts every semester. If I am not mistaken, the points were also used, collectively, to compare university departments.

Research assessment grid
Research assessment grid

There are two things to note about this assessment grid. Firstly, it appears to have been designed to showcase the volume of research output at the university. This was achieved by including, in the list of publications, research output that barely meets scholarship criteria (e.g., non-refereed conference presentations). At the time, there were plans under way to restructure the Higher Education system in Greece, mainly by merging or abolishing under-performing departments, so it was important to project the impression of a vibrant scholarly community. Secondly, although there was some attempt to differentiate research according to quality, the criteria used seemed to discriminate best among the least ambitious scholarly contributions: for instance, there were four different types of conference outputs. By contrast, the top categories conflated many types of very dissimilar publications, e.g., scholarly monographs, trade books, textbooks and self-publications were all listed as ‘books’, and ‘refereed journal articles’ did not distinguish between ISI-indexed journals, graduate student journals, predatory publishers, and in-house journals that had been set up in some academic departments to print otherwise unpublishable work. It seems that there were not enough publications in these categories to warrant different categories.

Because of the way the points were awarded, the most efficient publication strategy was to produce a large number of publications in a short amount of time. Typically, this involved compressing preparation time, and submitting to journals that were not too selective, had quick turn-around times, and could claim to be ‘refereed’. In other words, the system created a niche that predatory publishers were quick to fill.

Teacher assessment

The new teacher assessment framework in the Greek state education system seems to suffer from the same weakness. The framework uses analytical ranking criteria to assign teachers to ranks such as ‘exceptional’, ‘very good’, ‘adequate’ and ‘deficient’. One of the criteria, ‘scientific development’ (επιστημονική ανάπτυξη), is assessed by taking into account “contributions to conference proceedings”, “articles published in refereed journals” and “books authored or edited, and editorship of conference proceedings” (Π.Δ. 152/2013 [ΦΕΚ 240/2013 τ.Α’], αρ. 6, παρ. 4, υποπαρ. vi, vii, xiii). In this case too, there seems to be no differentiation between various types of publication, and the design of the assessment instrument seems to reward volume, rather than quality, of scholarly output.

Fixing the system would mean that the preferred teachers wouldn’t be able to attain the promotion criteria.

During my tenure at the Ioannina Model/Experimental school, we had to pilot an early version of the assessment framework. On that occasion, I noted that the instrument was too blunt to be of much use, since virtually every article eventually gets published somewhere. At the very least, I suggested, there should be some provision for eliminating publications in journals that are known to be predatory operations. It was explained to me that the system was meant to encourage teachers to engage in research, even if such research was not ground-breaking; and besides, if some publishers were eliminated, then too few teachers would be able to reach in the top ranks of the assessment framework. It took me a while to understand that this argument really meant that the preferred teachers wouldn’t be able to attain the criteria.

So what?

Both examples above offers some insights as to why teachers might look to predatory publishers to further their career prospects. Although both examples are taken from the Greek context, I think that similar considerations may also apply to other, similarly structured, systems. This is, in my view, a problem for at least three reasons.

  • First, this system does not sufficiently reward the best research output, and therefore promotes mediocrity. Put differently, there’s no incentive for a researcher to invest time, effort and funding into producing one solid paper, if they have to compete against colleagues who produce as many as four papers in a fortnight (sadly, this is not a made up example). While I very strongly believe in teacher-driven research as a driver for excellence, I feel that such culture of mediocrity can only undermine any benefits of research activity.
  • Secondly, in the absence of rigorous quality standards, there is a danger of contaminating the scientific record with research that is useless, wrong, unethically obtained or even fabricated. Such academic misconduct can only result in a loss of trust in science and foster science denial; in the field of education, in particular, which is already beset by an unfortunate divide between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ it is likely to increase scepticism towards academic work, and provide practitioners with an excuse for disregarding empirical evidence that challenges questionable pedagogical practices.
  • Finally, I believe that most schools and teaching-oriented universities are already straining under the pressure of providing good quality instruction with ever-diminishing resources. Under the circumstances, it seems unethical to make hiring and promotion decisions conditional on a publication model that creates unrealistic output expectations for honest researchers, and profit opportunities for unscrupulous publishers.

I admit that I don’t have a fully worked out idea of how things might be done differently, but there are a number of directions one might pursue, if one were really interested in improving research assessment, at least in the Greek context. I hope to blog about them at some point in the near future, but in the meanwhile, if you have any ideas about how this might be done, or if you have similar examples of assessment practices that encourage predatory publishing, you are very welcome to leave a comment below.

Featured image credit: The Leaf Project @ Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0 

Αχιλλέας Κωστούλας Ιστοσελίδα και Ιστολόγιο


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