GLOBAL: Social science and rankings

The number of social science publications in international journals is much lower than those for the natural sciences and medicine. So the natural sciences and the medical fields dominate university rankings while the strength of universities' social sciences scarcely contributes to their position, says Anthony FJ van Raan, a professor of science studies and Director of the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University.

In his section on university rankings in the World Social Science Report 2010, van Raan says smaller universities, particularly those with an emphasis on social sciences, will do better as a result of Times Higher Education's peer-review element than in the more bibliometrically oriented and size-dependent Shanghai ranking.

"A striking example is the difference in the London School of Economics' position: top in the THE ranking and low in the Shanghai list. Generally, social science research has a strong international orientation but national orientation may play a more important role than it does in the medical and natural science fields."

Van Raan says there are considerable differences in the research and communication cultures between the medical and natural science fields on the one hand, and the social sciences on the other.

In the social sciences, there is often less consensus on what constitutes successful scientific approaches so the meaning of citations may differ from the medical and natural science fields. Publication practices in the social sciences are less standardised than those in the medical and natural science fields and international peer-reviewed journals are less important than in the exact sciences.

As well, he says the written scholarly communication system's structure often does not show a clear core-periphery structure and English is not always a dominant language. Journals may even be multilingual.