quarta-feira, 1 de abril de 2015

FCT OBLIGED TO GO TO COURT

There has been an interest from all around the world about all the news about the Portuguese scandal in science assessment. For the benefit of our international readers we have translated a recent newspiece by the journalist  Samuel Sive, which appeared recently (24h Januart) in the national reference newspaper PÚBLICO:

FCT OBLIGED TO GO TO COURT

The controversy on the assessment of research units by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), which has dragged on for months in the scientific community, will now move to the courts. There are at least two public research university centers which presented legal challenges of the process, invoking various illegalities committed by that institution, such as rule changes with the ongoing process and other "blunders", which lead them to seek the annulment of all evaluation

 These two lawsuits against the FCT were presented at the end of last month, moved by the Mathematical Centre (CMAT), University of Minho (UM), at the Administrative and Fiscal Court (TAF) of Braga, and the Chemistry Center of the Tras-os-Montes and Alto Douro University oUTAD), at the TAF Mirandela. In addition to the temporal coincidence, the two complaints share the same type of arguments against the assessment for the FCT by the European Science Foundation (ESF), which called into question the legality of some of the decisions.

 In the two known processes there are three problems that are pointed out. Among these, there is the indication that appeared in the contract signed between the FCT, subordinate body to the Ministry of Education and Science (MEC), and the ESF that only 50% of the evaluated units would proceed to the second phase of the evaluation, a fact which could only be learned about three weeks after the announcement of the results of that stage (where 144 centers have ended up its way while 178  passed to the second stage). The action of the CMAT is considered that this reading "results clear from the contract with the ESF" and that a constraint of this type had never been publicized by FCT. "Thus, it breached the principle of transparency," argues the same document.

Then they point a change introduced in the evaluation process already under way. In the action moved by the University of Minho research center it is considered a "serious breach" changing the number of evaluators in each panel. CMAT argues that on  April 29, 2014, with an "additional information", FCT went on to mention that the assessment would be made by three rapporteurs, when the first evaluation of the guide, published on July 31, 2013, it had been announced that there would be five evaluators for each center. This change "changes the evaluation procedure during the procedure, in clear violation of the principles of trust and transparency", it is argued in the action which was received at TAF Braga.

 On the other hand, the list of expert panels for the evaluation was proposed by the FCT on April 4, 2014 – and approved by the Secretary of State of Science Leonor Parreira  four days later - at a time when the deadline for research units submit their application to the evaluation processes was passed long ago. This time lag with the appointment of experts made at a later date than the applications also hurt, according to the action delivered in court by CMAT, the principles of neutrality and impartiality and is na additional cause  for the annulment of the whole competition. "To date, and completely beyond the legal term, we remain without any response from FCT,"  explains to  PUBLICO Ana Jacinta Soares, CMAT coordinator, who subscribes to legal action.

 In the first phase of the evaluation, released at the end of June last year, CMAT has been classified as  "Fair” and therefore was not entitled to any funding. The first complaint of the research unit of the University of Minho allowed na upgrade to "Good", but that was not enough for the CMAT, which considers being excluded some of its arguments "unfairly and illegally"

In the document  of the case the various steps of the evaluation process of the research units, since the opening of the competition in July 2013, are recalled, calling attention to the main defects that were publicly denounced by the several scientific laboratories over the past few months, as the inadequacy of evaluators panels - according to the legal action of CMAT, from the 11 elements of the Panel of Exact Sciences, only three are actually mathematicians - or the fact that bibliometric indicators were not properly considered

The main reason for opposition by the UTAD Chemical Center is precisely the evaluation criteria of scientific productivity. This unit had note 3 in this item, despite being best rated in the various parameters analyzed by bibliometric study published by the FCT at the beginning of the evaluation process than  the centers that have ended up having note 4.

This research unit went from a “Very Good” rating in the previous review of 2007 to "Good" in the new process. Therefore, they will receive an annual funding of only 10,000 euros, which will have to be divided among the 27 researchers who make it up.

 Also for this center there were "gross errors" in the evaluation of research centers that should determine its annulment. "All this was so incredible that the FCT has no choice but to start again", says the director of that scientific unit, Paulo Coelho.

 These are the only two judicial processes on the assessment of the research units that PUBLIC learned about. FCT did not disclose whether there are others. Moreover, on this subject there was a single reaction from that public entity, through its office of communications: "The FCT does not comment on legal processes, whether ongoing or in the perspective that they will come into being."


Samuel Silva Público 24/3/2015

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