January 20, 2014
Moneyball versus Fighting Implicit Bias: Two Views on Tenure and Evaluating Scholarship
Posted by Erik Gerding

Last week witnessed two very different views of how faculties can and should evaluate junior scholars for hiring and tenure.  Compare this academic study (with the catchy title Moneyball for Academics ) with KerryAnn O’Meara’s essay in Slate  on countering implicit bias in tenure reviews. 

Both works leave a lot of questions unanswered.  Even if the Moneyball approach one day delivers on its promise – to use network analysis of citations to predict the success of junior academics – it would also prove less than satisfying.  Scholars who start out at citation hubs and collaborate with other scholars at those hubs – may be more likely to be cited going forward.  But does that make their work more valuable?  If financial markets are marked by fads, fashions, herding, and information cascades, the “market for ideas” (whatever that means) is even more susceptible to these dynamics.  At least financial markets have arbitrageurs.  (If only Socrates was able to ride out his short sale of Athenian democracy a little bit longer.)

The Slate article lies at the opposite end of the spectrum of Moneyball.  O’Meara is critical of excessive reliance of quantitative factors –including citation counts – in evaluating scholarship.  She argues that, to address problems of implicit bias, faculties should take a broader view of what constitutes scholarly contributions than traditional measures, including the use of external  reviewers.  But what does that look like in practice?  If there is an inescapable level of subjectivity to any evaluation of scholarship, what standards should apply? 

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