Reforms to Italy's leading state research institutes have infuriated academics, who were not consulted. The reforms will cut the number of institutes from 19 to 12, give them fewer resources and allow the government to control the selection of heads of departments.
Announcing the changes last week, higher education and research minister Letizia Moratti said the reforms would make better use of resources.
Among the institutions affected was the National Research Council (CNR), which controls 108 sub-institutes in all fields. It has warned that insufficient funding could force it to drop out of international programmes.
More than 800 scientists, academics and employees of research institutes rallied at the CNR last Friday to protest against the reforms and to plan to lobby the government.
Giorgio Salvini, a physicist and honorary president of the prestigious Accademia dei Lincei, declared: "These are signs we are moving towards a dictatorship."
Flaminia Sacca', a sociologist responsible for higher education and research in the Democrats of the Left, the largest opposition party, added:
"The government has totally ignored the views of the scientific community.
Everything was decided behind closed doors without talks with the opposition or the unions."
Ms Moratti employed a consultancy firm to help shape the reforms, which reinforced the suspicion among critics that she saw research as merely an offshoot of industry.
"We are extremely worried," said Rino Falcone, researcher in cognitive technology and coordinator of a recently formed researcher observatory.
"There are elements of authoritarianism in a context in which authoritarianism simply does not work. The Moratti programme will damage the nation and its future."
The controversy began in September after media reports that the government would reform state research. In October, the deputy minister for research, Guido Possa, gave assurances to the scientific community that it would be consulted on any changes. But last week, Ms Moratti announced the reforms as a fait accompli that requires only cabinet approval.