Evaluating Italy’s ranking boom

University of Siena, Italy.

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University of Siena, Italy.

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University of Pavia, Italy.

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The president and vice-president of the Italian National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research Institutes (ANVUR) claim that Italy’s rise in international research-impact rankings is a real effect (P. Miccoli and R. I. Rumiati Nature 574, 486; 2019), and not (as we have argued) the result of Italian scholars citing one another’s articles more heavily (see Nature; 2019). We question their evidence for this claim.

First, they say that scientific productivity in Italy has risen in the past decade, possibly stimulated by the introduction of performance-related university funding. More articles are indeed being published, but the yearly growth rate of Italy’s scientific production has in fact slowed down since the introduction of performance-related targets in 2012, according to ANVUR’s own statistics (see; in Italian).

Second, they state that ANVUR recognizes the importance of correcting gaming behaviours, including self-citation. They point out that, in an evaluation of 2011–14 work, the agency established a criterion for ‘downgrading’ papers in which self-citation exceeded a given threshold. ANVUR’s own reports, however, show that this downgrading was never applied (see; in Italian).

In our view, ANVUR’s claim needs to be grounded more in fact and less in aspiration.

Nature 576, 213 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-03808-6

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