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Boycott challenges research tactics

Italy's National Agency for the Evaluation of the University System and Research (ANVUR) has released its evaluation report for the period 2004–10 (see Nature doi.org/nrx). The country's largest publicly funded research organization, the National Research Council (CNR), came unexpectedly low in this ranking — despite its impressive record in basic and applied research products (see go.nature.com/kv2ipo; in Italian). In our view, this is a result of a boycott of the evaluation process by a group of CNR researchers.

During ANVUR's evaluation, a 'reform' under Silvio Berlusconi's government centralized decisions within the CNR by a board of five government nominees, excluding CNR researcher representatives — making the CNR the only public research organization in Italy without any researchers on its governing board.

In protest, some 15% of CNR researchers decided not to submit their publications for evaluation by ANVUR. Because missing products score negatively, the effect of the boycott was amplified and seems to have affected the CNR's ranking.

In a press release, the CNR's chairman, Luigi Nicolais, attributed the council's low ranking to bias in the ANVUR criteria, indicating that the CNR should help Italy's growth and support its enterprises and public administrations, and that these activities should in future be evaluated alongside scientific publications. Most CNR scientists would object to this, however, as they see research as their principal task.

Not all CNR researchers (including ourselves) agreed about the strategic value of the boycott, but it was a last stand for internal democracy, representation and transparency in decision-making at the CNR. To our knowledge, these issues remain unresolved.

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Correspondence to Patrizia Lavia.

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Amato, U., Lavia, P. & Mocella, V. Boycott challenges research tactics. Nature 501, 316 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/501316d

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