Research evaluation

Women, science and leadership, a conversation with Ilaria Capua

It’s a question that has concerned Western society since the women’s liberation movement: is it really possible to be successful both at work and at home? When applied to women in the field of science, the question takes on various dimensions. We talked with Ilaria Capua, the Director of the Division of Comparative Biomedical Sciences at the Istituto Zooprofilattico delle Venezie, and Member of the Italian Parliament, about this challenge, the importance teaching women leadership skills and what the world learned from the Ebola outbreak.

Follow the money: how to track research funds

Sixteen digits. Nature has called it "online science passport". More than half a million researchers have already joined the initiative. The ORCID project (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) is a wide database of scientists all over the world: it collects names, short biographies, research activities, patents, citations, results, dataset. Citing from the homepage, ORCID provides “a persistent digital identifier that distinguishes you from every other researcher”.

A tour through European scientific governance

European research is fundamental for guaranteeing future competitiveness to our economies, as acknowledged by all EU member States that committed to reach investments in research and development equal to 3% of GDP. Up to date, however, the funds allocated by the 28 Countries of the Union remain below the 2% of GDP and on average do not exceed 0.7% (Fig. 1). Some Nations, however, are reversing their route.

Science and innovation in Italy: some figures to understand

Despite Italy investing so little in research, Italian researches are holding on, at least if we consider the number of cited publications at international level. What is critical, however, is the following step: from research to industrial applications, as shown from patents, start-ups and other indicators statistics. Yet, it is the combination of research, innovation, industrial dynamism and capability of winning new markets that can really “re-start” our Country, recovering employment and withstanding the more and more intense international competition.

Scientific research: Milan calls Europe

Milan may be considered one of the main centers of Italian research, at least in its international and cooperative dimension, as it is demonstrated by the data regarding the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) that Scienceonthenet have analyzed(1). From such data, the great research centers of Milan clearly stands out, especially in the fields of biomedicine, energy and information technology, but there are also hundreds of small enterprises that collaborate with partners from abroad, in a “Europe of knowledge” that is still to be fully discovered.

University rankings downgrade Italy

Italian universities lose ground within the international rankings. Our best institutions cannot keep pace with the others in the big planetary match of knowledge production and dissemination. The average data, however, is even more alarming. It is not just about the best universities. The whole system is suffering, and not for a quality issue only: the main problem is about quantities. Countries worldwide are funding more and more education, while Italy less and less, simply meaning that the gap in knowledge between Italy and the rest of the world is increasing.

World university ranking debate

Just as happened in Italy after the VQR report has released, a counter-assessment was also given to the Jiao Tong University ranking, concerning the best universities in a global scenario, published on august 2013. "That ranking does not reflect our academic system" were the words of Genvieve Fioraso, French Minister of Higher Education and research.

The quest for quality: Telethon as a model

Telethon Scientific and Medical Committee assigned few days ago the new grants for 2013. Projects selection is extremely rigorous and articulate: Telethon, in fact, follows the same process of the US National Institute of Health, which only honours merit and is considered the best in the world. Scientific publications from Telethon Research, on average, obtain 60% more citations than the US average (based on Thomson Reuters citation-index calculations).

Three lessons from the ANVUR report

The National Agency for the Evaluation of University and Research (the Italian acronym is ANVUR) presented today in Rome the final report on Research Quality Evaluation from 2014 to 2010. This extensive work evaluated the research activity of 95 Universities, 12 Public Research Bodies monitored by the MIUR (the Ministry of Education, University and Research) and 26 so-called “volunteer” bodies. The analysis was carried out for 14 different discipline areas by 14 different groups of experts and involved a total of 450 people, besides thousands of evaluators.

Research is a matter for professionals

Again this year, the Telethon marathon ensured 30 million euro (a little more is expected in June, with the closing of the balance sheet), most of which will be used to fund cutting edge research on genetic diseases. A good economic result, therefore, with some concern due to the growth in applications for grants by almost one third, many of which are polycentric.

Evaluating, even the USA is having a difficult time

Evaluating research isn't easy. Not even in the United States, which is a country considered to be ahead of its time in this field. And not even for the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), which uses an evaluation system considered to be amongst the best in the world. Only a small part of the projects chosen by the American Federal Agency have proven to be excellent. And only a small part of the American projects have passed the NIH evaluation system.

What happens when a Country neglects science

At present, there is lots of focus on discussions for MIUR (Ministry of Education, Universities and Research) to establish an Agency, ANVUR (National Agency for Evaluation of Universities and Research Institutes), with the objective of assessing the scientific results of various Italian research groups. There is no doubt over the importance of such activity as the Group2003 demonstrated in their constituent Manifesto and repeated multiple times.

Here's how Cariplo assesses merit

Another step towards a fair assessment of research projects comes again from the private sector: we are talking about the Cariplo Foundation. On the wake of Telethon, which opened the road by importing the peer-review system inspired by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and considered the best in the world, the merit-based and impartial model is taking place among private "funding agencies".