The Australian Research Council’s Puzzling Ranking of International Law Journals

by Kevin Jon Heller

My former colleague and current friend, John Ip, has an interesting post at Concurring Opinions discussing his reaction to the Australian Research Council’s ranking of law reviews.  As he notes, the original version of the list was both absurd and US-centric, awarding the Modern Law Review a B and the Cambridge Law Review a C, while giving the Connecticut Law Review an A* (along with, more justifiably, the Harvard Law Review and the Yale Law Journal).  The rankings provoked an immediate outcry from Australian legal scholars, leading the ARC to solicit academic input and revise the rankings.  The new rankings are definitely better, but they are still puzzling in terms of international law journals.  Here are the ones from A*-B:

A* Journals

  • AJIL
  • Harvard Journal of International Law
  • Michigan Journal of International Law
  • NYU Journal of International Law and Politics
  • Yale Journal of International Law

A Journals

  • Columbia Journal of Transnational Law
  • EJIL
  • Georgetown Journal of International Law
  • Leiden Journal of International Law
  • Nordic Journal of International Law
  • Stanford Journal of International Law
  • Virginia Journal of International Law
  • Wisconsin International Law Journal
  • Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

B Journals

  • American University International Law Review
  • Berkeley Journal of International Law
  • Boston University International Law Journal
  • Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law
  • Chicago Journal of International Law
  • Chinese Journal of International Law
  • Cornell International Law Journal
  • Denver Journal of International Law and Policy
  • Fordham International Law Journal
  • George Washington International Law Review
  • Melbourne Journal of International Law
  • Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law
  • Emory International Law Review
  • Texas International Law Journal
  • UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs
  • University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law

No two international law scholars would rank journals in the same way, but there still seem to be a few obvious problems with this list. With apologies to the editors — please don’t punish me if I submit something to you! — I think it is difficult to argue that the Wisconsin Law Review, good as it is, deserves to be ranked as high as Virginia or Stanford and higher than Chicago, Fordham, Berkeley, Cornell, or Duke.  The same is true of the Nordic Law Review and Georgetown, despite the fact that they are certainly excellent journals.  Similarly, I don’t think anyone would consider Denver to be as prestigious as the rest of the Bs.

Underranking seems to be an even greater problem.  It is ridiculous not to give EJIL an A* — I think it is safe to say that it and AJIL are the world’s most prestigious international law journals.  I also think that Chicago and Cornell both deserve A’s, and a strong case could be made for Duke and Fordham, as well, particularly if Vanderbilt deserves its A.  And where is Melbourne, which is clearly — though I’m biased — the best international law journal in the southern hemisphere and regularly publishes the world’s leading international law scholars (recent issues include articles by Mark Drumbl, Phillipe Sands, Janet Halley, and Hilary Charlesworth)?

I am not opposed to ranking law reviews; I’m an American, after all, and we rank everything.  But rankings have to be done well to be useful; inaccurate rankings create perverse incentives for legal scholars to submit to journals that will help their careers with their home institutions, but are not considered as prestigious by their peers.  Scholars shouldn’t have to make that choice — and journals shouldn’t suffer (or be rewarded) because of a flawed system over which they have no control.

Readers?  Your thoughts on the rankings above?

    http://opiniojuris.org/2009/09/10/the-australian-research-councils-puzzling-ranking-of-international-law-journals/

    10 Responses

    1. Kevin, you forgot American Journal of Comparative Law which often publishes int law stuff and is also an A* although, in my view, a deserving one. You are, I think, right on the underranking at least. The EJIL not being A* is entirely puzzling to me. I’d also think that Leiden ought to be up there at A* too, although A isn’t that much of an underranking. Melbourne at a B is very baffling, especially when some Australian general journals have an A or A* ranking that people outside of Australia might call questionable (although, of course, we are not the target audience of this ranking process).

      When one looks at the entire listing (not just the extracted int law journals) it’s clear that there are a number of areas where the rankings don’t seem to be quite right. In terms of international law journals, however, I think there is here as in other places the difficulty of ranking subject specific journals when the rankers are generalists as I presume was the case here (?)

      Although we are of course keeping abreast of the Australian rankings–more so than we would US rankings, for example, because the Australian rankings do seem to take major generalist journals like the MLR and OJLS into more adequate account–we are not bound by them. What are the implications of the rankings within the Australian academy itself–will the ranking of an article’s placement journal be taken into account in promotions, research assessments etc?

    2. The one that jumps out at me as crazy is not putting EJIL in the top category.

    3. Law Journals in the US and UK are always on the top rank, even the law firms and the one who rank these law journals are mostly US and UK people too. As English is the language that dominates global legal, business and economic issues, the law journals produced by native English-speaking countries are always on the top rank.

      It is really hard to rank which are number 1, 2, 3 or 4, as the rankers do not have concensus on ranking guidelines, I guess each countries would have different ranking guidelines and each rankers would want the law journals produced in their countries to be on the top. May be we can establish one institution to rank the law journals produced around the world and each year, there would be a ranking competition?

      I am an editor of a law journal in Africa, a law magazine in Austria and also a law journal here in Cambodia, but my country’s journal is never in the list; quite a regret.

      Thanks,

      Vicheka Lay, Kingdom of Cambodia

    4. Vicheka,

      I completely agree.  I’m glad to see the Chinese Journal on the list; I think it might even rate an A.  I find that it consistently publishes excellent articles on international criminal law.

    5. Kevin

      Thanks for reading my comments. However, we are not working on any solution on this. Do you think this case important enough to bring to international level or get attention from legal scholars?

      Thanks,

      Vicheka Lay, Cambodia

    6. Kevin,

      You didn’t mention the ICLQ which got an A* (fair) and the British Year Book which got an A (maybe harsh).

      From your own specialty area it is good to see the Journal of International Criminal Justice get an A*

      John

    7. One must be crazy not to put BYIL into A* list.

    8. Is there any sort of objective data publicly available? It’d be obviously problematic to solely rely on data like citation counts, but when there’s such a wide range of opinions in the subjective rankings, having some sort of data to look at might be useful as a starting point.

    9. Please read the quality of the articles being published in the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy before commenting on its “prestige.”

    10. Ruby T,

      I did not say, and would not say, the journal does not publish quality articles.  But I think it is very difficult to argue that the journal is perceived to be in the same league as the other Bs.

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