domingo, 31 de agosto de 2014

Statement of the CLA – Council of Associate Laboratories on the ongoing evaluation procedure of the FCT Research Units

We publish a quick English tranlation of the Statement of the Associate Laboratories (dated 07/25/2014), since the posts on the ERS/FCT evaluation are now being accessed by many foreign readers:

For more than two decades Portuguese research centers  have been evaluated by experts of foreign research centers, organized in specialized panels. This practice became widespread to all research centers for nearly 15 years. The names and resumes of appraisers were public and announced in advance  to allow  to fix bugs, add skills, avoid conflicts of interest or monolithic opinion. The scientific evaluation system  in Portugal was gradually improved and became one of the main factors of the external credibility of the Portuguese scientific development and the trust of scientists in Portugal in their institutions. Several leaders and various political majorities helped to consolidate it. The evaluation thus became the basis for the regular funding of scientific institutions, including research centers of universities.

The system of institutional support in force until allowed to balance a concentration of resources in strategic programs in the best institutions with a distribution of sufficient resources for the functioning of all institutions of recognized quality. Thus, so far, all scientific institutions classified as good, very good or excellent had a multiannual stable basis, indexed to their size (essentially the number of PhD researchers).

Against the opinion of the Universities and the CLA itself, the proven system was  replaced by a service contract  between the FCT and an external entity that only this week was finally known. The first consequences of changes to the evaluation system have sparked outrage and bewilderment in many Portuguese scientific institutions, and critical  positions of  CRUP (Rectors Council), the coordinators of Scientific Councils of the FCT and other entities. The main breaks introduced were:

a) Subverting the relationship between assessment and funding basic research centers. Under the new rules, an institution that has been judged only good will receive funding of residual base (which can reach a tenth of what it had before). That is, that institution is in practice extinguished. This methodology, kept as hidden as possible, ignored the widespread criticism from scientists and universities. Can a scientific system operate without a great number of good research centers which are not of exceptional quality? It can not, in any part of the world. This is the very definition of exceptionality. Furthermore: can a country allow, according to this logic, entire scientific areas disappear, as it now happening in Portugal, because their institutions are only good (but not exceptional)? Of course not. Thus, the political irresponsibility of this rupture, if materialized, will  belittle the country and deprive him of skills that laboriously managed to create.

b) Destroy a model of panels based on the expertise of its members. While until now the evaluation was done by international high level specialized panels (about 25, so that each panel would bring together experts able to comment in depth the scientific work of Portuguese institutions) now six (6) panels structured by large areas are asked to assess our specialized institutions. In many cases, the panel fails to have a single expert in the area of the institution under review. There are cases where the only expert with this curriculum would not even be hired by the institution that he will evaluate.

c) Undermining confidence in the assessment system in place so far. The evaluators, as well as studying the written documentation provided to them by the individual units, visited all institutions to review so that they could better know them and clarify the  information directly with the evaluated. It stopped being so: henceforth the evaluators become just to visit the centers which, on paper, have been assessed as better than "good",  even though some centers may come in the 2nd phase to be  rated with good or less. The prior evaluation, done only on paper, based on advices from anonymous experts and the final decision of a general panel, is eliminatory.


 The CLA believes that the glaring anomalies in the current evaluation process of scientific research in Portugal should be urgently corrected. Namely: all research units should be subject to evaluation visits; these visits should be conducted by specialist panels, unlike announced; the duration of the visit should take into account the size of the unit; and continuous funding base must be guaranteed funding to institutions evaluated at least as Good.

The CLA warns all political responsibles for wasting resources and energy, and the damage in trust, difficult to recover, which is the attempt to impose to Science of an evaluation process significantly rejected by the scientific community and therefore without no stable future and calls once again for the constructive dialogue that has always asked for.

The CLA will join efforts with all other scientific and academic institutions, including universities and their research centers, to safeguard rigor, competence and transparency of scientific assessment in Portugal. The CLA calls attention to the low priority to science, visible, among other indicators, in the drastic reduction of multiannual funding for research units observed since 2011 (a 40% reduction), aggravating the forced emigration of scientists and reducing the national scientific capabilities.

The CLA alerts the country to the gravity of the current situation of science in Portugal and the consequences that would have a continued setback in this critical area for the future of the country. Forced emigration of scientists now joins the instability of institutions and the rupture consensus between scientists and policymakers. For the first time since Portugal joined the European Union (EU), scientific institutions and higher education were not even called to say a word on the government's proposals on the fate of EU structural funds in their areas.

CLA, 07/25/2014

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