In Italy, Academe Is a Family Business

It's no secret that nepotism plays an important role in Italy's academic world. In a paper published yesterday in PLoS ONE, Stefano Allesina of the University of Chicago's Computation Institute presents an original way to gauge the extent of the problem: a statistical analysis of the names and academic affiliations of more than 60,000 tenured professors in Italy. His findings, detailed in a blog post at ScienceCareers, aren't pretty:

A theoretical ecologist, Allesina approached the problem in a way that is "akin to computing how many species of trees we should find in a quadrant given the frequency of the species in a forest," he says. Correcting for natural name distribution in Italy, Allesina asked how many last names one should expect to find in a particular discipline if the names were selected randomly, and compared this number to the real-life number.

Allesina found "a severe paucity of names," which was most pronounced in engineering, law, medicine, geography, and pedagogy and also in the South of Italy. "The probability that the recruitment was fair is extremely low," Allesina says.

Read the whole story here.