The Italian job: there's no material difference

May 10, 1996

If indeed the language department of the University of Bergamo is as bad as Richard Davies describes it, why should he have chosen to go there ("Academia as Roman holiday", THES, April 26)? Surely there are simple ways of ascertaining how good any given department is before accepting to go there.

Davies says: "The typical Italian article or monograph is let through on the nod and its printing costs are defrayed from the funds of the institutions." That may be true for some departments (in Italy, but perhaps also elsewhere) but that kind of publication gets an impact factor of zero. One only needs to browse through the Citation Index bibliography to find out what the average impact factor of the work published by members of any given department is, and if the answer is close to zero, well, one does not accept a post in that department.

The value of the average impact factor for the department of materials and production engineering in Naples where I work is 0.785 - and in materials engineering the very best one can do (in principle, but no department in the whole world achieves that) is 1.300. Over 90 per cent of the publications from our department are in English, and they appear in the same international journals on which the production of the best British departments appear. So a British scientist who decides to visit our department within the scope of a Socrates programme is guaranteed not to fall within the scope of problems that Davies describes - contrary to what Davies says in his opening paragraph, our department does have business in exchange programmes such as Socrates.

I perfectly agree with Davies's final statement that "without some inspection of the credentials of universita the British should refuse to cooperate". I simply wonder why Davies did not do just that before going to Bergamo - if indeed Bergamo is as bad as he describes it, even a superficial inspection of its credentials would have revealed the fact. Maybe Davies wanted a Roman holiday, and chose academia accordingly.

Gianni Astarita Professor, Department of materials and production engineering University of Naples "Federico II"

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