Research is rife with nepotism in Italy, in particular in industrial engineering, law and medical sciences, according to a study published in the journal PLoS One on 3 August.
Stefano Allesina, from the University of Chicago’s ecology and evolution department, has analysed a list of over 61,000 tenured researchers working in Italy.
He found that “the abundance of name-sharing connections in Italian academia are highly unlikely to be observed at random.”
Nine disciplines out of 28 are particularly affected by nepotism, and the situation is more severe in the south of Italy.
But the scale of the issue may be even larger, Allesina notes. His method can detect favouritism cases between father and child or siblings, but not between spouses or between mother and child, as Italian women usually keep their maiden names.
The author told the ScienceCareers blog: “What I find surprising is the magnitude of the phenomenon, especially because my analysis provides a gross underestimate of nepotism… We are in fact talking carloads of rotten apples.”
The author recommends “concentrating resources in the ‘healthy’ part of the system” to cope with scarce resources and stem the Italian brain-drain.
He adds that this kind of statistical analysis could be used in other areas to focus attention on specific disciplines and locations.
Also, he says the study could be repeated in the future to assess the effect of a law passed in December 2010 that forbids hiring relatives within the same university department.