Reverse the Curse of the Top-5

19 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2018

Date Written: October 29, 2018


The past 40 years has seen a large increase in the number of articles submitted to journals ranked in the top-5 of their discipline. This increase is the rational response, by faculty, to the overweighting of publications in these journals by university promotions and tenure committees. The ranking factors for academic journals, however, arose for a completely different purpose, to guide the journal acquisition decisions by budget-constrained university librarians. Using journal impact factors to infer the quality of an faculty members’ publications incurs a high incidence of both Type 1 errors, when we conclude incorrectly that a paper published in a top-5 journal is a high-impact paper, and Type 2 errors, when we conclude that papers (and books) not published in top-5 journals have low impact. In addition, a third type of error gets introduced as faculty pursue the research they perceive is favored by editors of top-5 journals, at the potential expense of more innovative and relevant research, perceived to be unpublishable in a top-tier journal. Accounting scholarship, in particular, has underinvested in research about innovative practices or the emerging accounting issues faced by contemporary organizations (Kaplan, 2011), likely because such research is viewed as unpublishable in top-5 journals. This gap persists despite recent scholarship that has documented how important, fundamental ideas can emerge from “use-inspired” research (see Pasteur’s Quadrant (Stokes, 1997)). The paper concludes by suggesting reforms to overcome the dysfunctional fixation on publication in top-5 journals.

Suggested Citation

Kaplan, Robert S., Reverse the Curse of the Top-5 (October 29, 2018). Harvard Business School Accounting & Management Unit Working Paper No. 19-052, Harvard Business School General Management Unit Working Paper No. 19-052, Available at SSRN: or

Robert S. Kaplan (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field
Accounting & Control
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6150 (Phone)
617-496-7363 (Fax)

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