“The more a multidisciplinary researcher performs, the less likely he is to be accredited by his peers”

“The more a multidisciplinary researcher performs, the less likely he is to be accredited by his peers”

“The more a multidisciplinary researcher performs, the less likely he is to be accredited by his peers”

D.o for several years, leading research institutes have encouraged the development and promotion of multidisciplinary research projects. Many communication campaigns promote the benefits, promoting a more comprehensive approach to training future elites and richer and more innovative research environments.

Our work reveals, however, that multidisciplinary academics tend to be at a disadvantage when evaluated by their peers (“A new interpretation of the categorical imperative: gatekeeping, boundary maintenance and evaluation sanctions in science”Riccardo Fini, Julien Jourdan, Markus Perkmann, Laura Toschi, Organization science, July 2022). Perhaps more surprising: the higher their performance, measured in terms of publications and citations, the more they are penalized!

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This observation is particularly surprising in the light of the literature. Previous studies on the subject suggest that multidisciplinary scientists are generally penalized by reviewers who struggle to classify their work, because a suspicion hangs over their competence and reliability. According to this reasoning, appraisers’ concerns should be dispelled when they have comprehensive information about a colleague’s distinguished academic career. But what we observe is very different.

Apparently counterintuitive results

Our study focuses on the national accreditation system established in 2012 in Italy, whose role is to accredit candidates who can apply for an associate or full professor position in an Italian public university. The analysis of all 55,497 applications submitted to 174 juries (specific to a scientific discipline) shows that the more efficient a multidisciplinary researcher is – in terms of publications and citations -, the less likely they are to be accredited by peers.

On average, the penalty applied to a high-performing multidisciplinary candidate is more than 50% higher than that applied to a low-performing alter ego! This phenomenon is particularly marked in “small” disciplines and very exclusive ones when it comes to scientific journals. Talented multidisciplinary candidates are also rated more severely by juries whose members have a profile typical of their discipline.

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To understand these seemingly counterintuitive findings, we need to take a closer look at how the world of research works. In the academic microcosm, a small number of talented and productive individuals exert a disproportionate influence on the future of each discipline. In particular, they can decide the priority research areas and the orientation towards new approaches, theories or methods.

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