Minister attacks Italian science

April 25, 2003

Relations between Italian education and research minister Letizia Moratti and scientists have deteriorated after she delivered an attack on their productivity and privileges.

The minister angered many scientists when she told youth activists from Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party: "We are not afraid of dismantling privileges and having scientists demonstrating in the streets. I'd like to ask these scientists what discoveries they have made. Probably we would find they have made no discoveries, while there are so many young researchers excluded."

The government has announced drastic cuts in public research spending, which is already only half the European Union average. The move has provoked protests by thousands of researchers. In one demonstration, researchers dumped thousands of test tubes and lab coats outside parliament.

Ms Moratti said that publicly funded research should be productive and of practical use to the nation, that projects should be monitored and that funding should be concentrated on specific programmes and institutes.

Astronomer Margherita Hack said: "I'd like to explain to her that a scientist's worth need not involve a discovery but lies in a lifetime's work. Some have created a school, founded laboratories, developed important apparatus or, by their leadership, have promoted crucial programmes."

Ms Hack said that Ms Moratti was invited to a national research conference but neither attended nor sent a representative. "A pity, she might have learnt a great deal," Ms Hack said.

In planning reforms of Italy's research institutes, Ms Moratti chose to be guided by a corporate consultant, Ernst & Young.

Rino Falcone of the National Research Council and president of the Research Observatory, which was formed to fight the cuts, said: "She has an industry-driven vision of research. She ignores appeals from the cream of Italian scientists, rejects advice from the scientific community."

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