Foreseeing the possibility to attract politicians attention on the matters of science, a bunch of respectful geeks created a group named “Dibattito Scienza” (Science Debate) to address few questions to the leaders of the main running parties in Italy. The initiative was inspired by the American sciencedebates.org.
The questions span from the future of academia to research investment, hot bioethical debates, energy policy and ‘protection from natural disaster’ (italians remember well that unsafe constructions/infrastructures in l’Aquila city caused 100 deaths in 2009 and blamed scientists for that).
Of the six party leaders interrogated, only Pier-Luigi Bersani (Democrats) Oscar Giannino (Independent-liberals) and Antonio Ingroia (Independent-lefts) replied. Monti, Berlusconi and Grillo (respectively center, center-right and independent) didn’t come with any answers, though the submission deadline remains open until the day of the election (Grillo’s party submitted the answers, but were soon withdrawn due to internal party disagreements).
The answers are all disappointing. Some politicians swing around the point for hundreds words before giving a half-satisfactory reply. Others are uproarious synthetic and seems not taking the questions seriously. My feeling is that they completely misunderstood the bottom line: they were not talking on a TV program, to their supporters that swallow whatever they say or the average italian citizen. They were facing the italian hardcore scientific community that clearly expected a professional approach to their questions. This was not the case. Too many unnecessary propagandistic terms, no clear reference to the data they refer to, and no concluding remarks.
If these people were really facing a science examination, they would be hanged (figuratively).
I was particularly interested in the question: “Investments, meritocracy and transparency: how to promote publicly-funded University and Research?”
Here the answers, as they appears on the webpage or Dibattito Scienza, in all they waste of space and words:
Here what politicians really mean, as bullet-list, party by party:
- Bersani: “The research system in Italy is no unproductive considering how few the State spends on it”
- A spending review of the administration, a reduction in national-defense expensive and a decreased of the interests for the public debt will provide the revenue necessary to invest more money in Universities
- Reforms without investing money are ineffective
- 500€ millions will be assigned to support meritocratic students to gain access to higher education
- The present education-supportive system (based on favored bank loads) will be abounded
- Economical support to students will account also for the accommodation expensive, not only university fees
- The national funding system will be reformed to look more like the EU 7th Frame Program application protocol
- Giannino: “Excellent research will be supported independently if it comes from the public or the private sector”
- Investments in the public Universities will be provided thanks to reorganization of the spending/financial system and reducing taxes for privates that invest in public research
- University courses will be ranked: those with the lowest production punished (and eventually closed) and those on top promoted. Similar system will be applied to research institutes and Universities
- More regulation for private Universities and on-line education providers
- Erase the “legal value” of the degree. (Currently in Italy, it’s necessary to own a degree to access certain job positions). This will force University to focus on providing quality education rather then just the degree’s papers
- Professors performance and research financial revenue will be publicly available and professors will be receiving salary according to their productivity
- Ingroia: “We have to acknowledge the great value of schools, Universities and public research. We want to ensure to all the gain to education and invest in both basic and applied research, since it’s the economy backbone”
(Ingroia has likely misunderstood the question, or though that generalizing would have been a good idea to get votes, I guess).
My home-taking messages from the Dibattito Scienza experience is the following:
- Some politicians disregard geeks and don’t take them seriously, unafraid of their inability to shape the society (an instructive reading to prove them wrong is ‘the geek manifesto‘)
- Politicians should learn how to communicate like people in science: when you have to deal with a crow of uninterested, boring, picky and certainly hungry people with a great propensity to demolish every bricks of your reasoning, you DO go to the point. And you make it clear. Oh yes, you do.
- Politicians have to learn how to write bullet-lists
Acknowledging that half of the possible future Prime Ministers didn’t reply, that most of the answers were elusive or not clear, and that none of the parties has an official science advisor (as far as I know), well…