"Evaluation of Portuguese research units conducted by the ESF: the flaws
Portuguese research units are funded by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT), the national funding agency. FCT has been carrying out periodic evaluations for more than 20 years, conducted by scientists from foreign institutions with the outcome of determining the level of funding.
The latest (still ongoing) evaluation was outsourced to the European Science Foundation (ESF). In the opinion of a large number of scientists and associations in Portugal (http://goo.gl/KHYDwZ) and many foreign scientists, of which Amayo Moro-Martin is but one example (http://goo.gl/U8OU9a), this evaluation is severely flawed. This ranges from the changing of the rules when the process was underway to the usage of incorrect bibliometric data during the first stage of the evaluation. The latter played a role in determining which units made it to the second stage, where the main part of the funding will be awarded. After legal pressure FCT made public part of the contract with ESF – it still refuses to disclose its addenda - from which we learn that ESF was instructed to a priori exclude 50% of the units from the second stage. As may be read in the work plan for the panels: "Stage 1 evaluation will result in a short list of half of the research units that will be selected to proceed to stage 2." The evaluation had thus to abide by this hidden quota while it was being publicized as being driven by quality alone.
This is not a relative evaluation to find the 50% best units and there is virtually no alternative funding from other Portuguese sources. Units which did not make it to the second stage will most likely not be able to continue. This alone would already be cause for concern, but becomes totally unacceptable when based on a flawed evaluation.
Carlos Fiolhais, Professor of Physics, University of Coimbra (Portugal)"
The letter was recently refused in the following terms:
"Thank you for your submission to Correspondence, which we cannot offer to publish. As Dr Moro-Martin already alluded to possible flaws in the ESF evaluation process and we have published a reply from the ESF (see http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v514/n7523/full/514434e.html), we have now closed this discussion in Correspondence. "
It seems strange that "Nature" published a position of a third party (opinion piece of Dr. Moro-Martin, with many comments; the opinion piece is still still open to comments), the position of ESF, an interested party (response of Dr. Worms and Dr. Swift; immediately closed to comments after a first reaction) but did not find space to publish the position of a Portuguese scientist.
The first and unique reaction (all the others seem to have been blocked) to Dr. Worms and Dr. Swift is the following:
I think the authors should talk and address the core problem, instead of blaming/attacking the messenger Amaya Moro-Martin.
Since "Nature" does not seem to be interested in providing a forum for a free discussion about the quality of the ESF/FCT assessment and the scientific system in Portugal, scientists, irrespective of whether they are Portuguese or not, wishing to debate this and related issues, are obliged to find space in other media.