June 19, 2021

The programmed suicide of the great essay | Society

The programmed suicide of the great essay | Society

The expression "effect cobra", disclosed by the German economist Horst Siebert, designates those decisions that produce results contrary to those foreseen. The formula has its origin in an anecdote set in India. During the British domination, a governor decided to offer a reward for each cobra hunted, to disinfest the region. Thus, in exchange for each captured copy, he paid citizens a certain amount of money. However, the measure (which, in a few years, transformed the hunters into breeders avid for profit), instead of eliminating the snakes, helped multiply them.

Unfortunately, the same "effect charges" is occurring in the complicated evaluation system that regulates university competitions. In Italy, for example, a candidate who aspires to achieve national qualification to be a first-level professor of Italian Literature must meet at least two of the three requirements: to have published a book in 15 years, six Level A articles in 15 years and 28 articles-short essays in 10 years. No possibility, with the current parameters, for a critic of the caliber of George Steiner (one of the most important of the twentieth century, with prestigious awards and honorary doctorates to his credit): without fulfilling the requirements for at least one of the other two areas (articles of level A and articles of different nature), their 11 books of success (of more) could not compensate the "threshold" unfulfilled.

The Italian situation can easily be compared with that of many countries in the five continents. In Spain – where the accreditation to the chair is subject to criteria no less quantitative than the Italians, so much so that a recent sentence and particularly significant of the Supreme Court it obliges the commissions not to neglect the quality of the contents-, the process to access the minor figures of the university teaching landscape (assistant and contracted-doctor) is making real havoc among the most gifted young people for authentic research. Today, a philosopher like Ortega y Gasset would not pass the criteria of "scientific quality", due to the fact that many of his writings were published, in different installments, in the periodical press (Sun) or in magazines founded and directed by himself (Magazine of the West).

The results of this aberrant logic are obvious: the scheduled suicide of the large-scale trial and the unnecessary multiplication of publications exclusively aimed at overcoming the oppositions. The university, instead of training young people dedicated to research, forges professionals of the curricula, forced (not by their fault) to devote precious energies to the alchemy of the "thresholds". Thus the measure programmed to promote and reward quality, submits research to quantity and numbers, favoring accounting accountants and not scholars who write books.

Nuccio Ordine He is a professor at the University of Calabria.


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