databases and publications

Nigel Vincent nigel.vincent at MANCHESTER.AC.UK
Sun Apr 22 17:40:57 UTC 2007

I have been following the discussion about databases and publication with
interest, though as an outsider rather than as someone with direct experience
of building or maintaining any typological resource. Gideon Goldberg's
trenchant intervention however raises, in a sharply polarised way, the question
of how scholarly credit and professional recognition is to be given, and
thereby interacts with a recent and perhaps relevant experience of my own.
The context is that in October last year I was on a panel that visited and
evaluated research in a broad range of arts and humanities disciplines,
including linguistics, in a number of universities in the Netherlands. In
preparation for our visit we were sent by each participating university
detailed accounts of current research activities including comprehensive lists
of publications over the last six years. The research activities listed
included precisely the compilation of various kinds of databases, as well as
other electronic resources such as interactive websites, and digitization
projects for manuscripts and other cultural artefacts.
It transpired however that when it came to measuring the output of individual
researchers all that counted was publications (whether in electronic or printed
journals). In other words, the policy operated in the Netherlands, and which it
was explained to me derives in turn from the guidelines on research evaluation
issued by the NWO, is more or less in line with Gideon's view: what counts for
reputational and career advancement purposes are the articles and books, not
the electronic or other resources that underlie and give rise to them.
As people may know, we will in 2008 in the UK have a national research
evaluation of our own, and for this many disciplines have made a special
effort, in drawing up evaluation criteria, to allow electronic resources such
as databases and digitization projects to count in their own right and not via
the publications they generate. In other words we have adopted a stance more or
less the opposite of that advocated by Gideon and recommended by the NWO. My
own view is that the UK panels are right to take the stance they have done. I
say this not out of blind loyalty to the UK system but because I would not
accept that the distinction between materials and research is anything like as
sharp as Gideon claims it to be. There is not for me a clearcut distinction
between the 'mere accumulation of data' (Gideon's words) and the use to which
data is put in analysis, argumentation and theory construction.
In preparing a good database, corpus, digitised archive or whatever those
responsible make innumerable judgments based on their analytical skill,
knowledge, and experience  and I believe they deserve credit for that directly,
not via an additional layer of publication. By the same token national funding
bodies should take such projects into account in determining funding
priorities. This does not mean there cannot be good, bad or indifferent
databases, etc just as there can be good, bad or indifferent books and articles
and good, bad or indifferent critical editions or catalogues. And this is what
research evaluation panels, for better or worse, seek to judge. And to do this
they will need the kinds of information about how the databases are compiled
that have been discussed in the recent exchanges. It will also be valuable to
have reviews of databases just as of books, again as been proposed in the
recent discussion.

Professor Nigel Vincent, FBA
Associate Vice-President for Graduate Education

Mailing address:     School of Languages, Linguistics & Cultures
                     University of Manchester
                     Manchester M13 9PL
                     United Kingdom

Tel (direct):        +44-(0)-161-275-3194
Fax:                 +44-(0)-161-275-3031

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