Assessing the Assessments

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Science  24 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6071, pp. 892
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6071.892-a

Though a modern-day Galileo may still woo an occasional Medici patron to support his research, a vast number of scientists depend on much more bureaucratic means to keep their labs running. Since 1986, when the UK Research Assessment Exercise was launched, at least 14 countries have implemented systems to distribute research funding to universities based on evaluation of research output. These have been motivated by the increasing importance of research to economic growth, as well as broader interests in improving public management. Hicks analyzes the systems' rationale, design, and impact. There is a range of assessments (e.g., citation analysis, peer review), across a range of scales (e.g., university, department, individual), that affect a range of funding outcomes (e.g., 25% of UK research support, 2% of Italian block grants). Although distribution of research funding is the putative purpose, direct financial impacts appear small compared to incentives to compete for public prestige. Some values widely associated with universities, such as diversity and equity, may suffer under systems focused solely on excellence and international competition. Though touted as critical to economic success, the systems do not appear to be well designed to meet that goal.

Res. Policy 41, 251 (2012).

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