ROME—An unprecedented government effort to shore up the quality of Italian science by reviewing the work of individual scientists and institutions has triggered a firestorm of protest. Critics say the government review, coordinated by the National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research Institutes (ANVUR) at the Ministry of Education, University and Research is using flawed criteria and will do little to reward the best Italian scientists.
The issue has been furiously debated on an online forum called Return On Academic Research (ROARS) in recent months, and has led to official protests by several scientific and legal associations, including the Mathematics Union and the Association of Psychologists. But the government is going ahead with the scheme anyway.
In 2011, ANVUR started pushing back nepotism, still rife in the Italian academic world, and reward excellence. The agency evaluates individual researchers, who, if they meet certain criteria, can get a government stamp of approval that allows them to apply for higher academic positions; it also rates universities and public institutions, who can expect to get more funding if they are among the best. But the criteria used are too crude, scientists say. “It’s like judging the bottles in a wine contest by the labels only without tasting their content,” says Alberto Baccini, a professor of political economics at the University of Siena.