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What is up with Italy? October 17, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in politics.
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My friend Toby just pointed this out to me:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v455/n7215/full/455835b.html

It is a dark and angry time for scientists in Italy, faced as they are with a government acting out its own peculiar cost-cutting philosophy. Last week, tens of thousands of researchers took to the streets to register their opposition to a proposed bill designed to control civil-service spending. If passed, as expected, the bill would dispose of nearly 2,000 temporary research staff, who are the backbone of the country’s grossly understaffed research institutions — and about half of whom had already been selected for permanent jobs.

That sounds awful! Note that last line "about half of whom have already been selected for permanent jobs." In Italy they will run you through the ringer to be hired for a position… you get to the end of it (and it is hard), and hey — sorry, there is no position available for you right now, so just hang out until we find one for you. The system was already limping before Berlusconi started this.

Italy, a G8 country, has one of the lowest R&D expenditures in that group — at barely 1.1%, less than half that of comparable countries such as France and Germany.

I guess the extra cash is required to save Al Italia – one of Berlusconi’s campaign promises.

The Berlusconi government may feel that draconian budget measures are necessary, but its attacks on Italy’s research base are unwise and short-sighted. The government has treated research as just another expense to be cut, when in fact it is better seen as an investment in building a twenty-first-century knowledge economy.

Indeed. The sad thing is that it is all to easy to see things from this point of view when you are frantically trying to cut budgets. I count myself as lucky this hasn’t happened yet in the USA. But I don’t think the US budget has been under nearly the pressure of the Italian budget. When the time comes, as it seems like it must these days, I hope our government has a more enlightened response.

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