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Appealing to the public


Science and politics
Renato Dulbecco Scientist
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[Q] In relation to the present, which also... to how we are now and to the difficulties that there are in carrying out research, in terms of resources and the need to encourage policymakers to assign research funds, that go to the right places. In Italy we have many problems, but these also exist at European level and probably also... now also throughout the world. Do you think that appeals from people of science, such as yourself and others in other fields as well, are sufficient to motivate young people to pursue their research and not to get discouraged?

Again, this is an extremely difficult problem, because, you see, taking the situation in Italy, the problem with the Italian situation is twofold, there are two things. I believe the main problem is that there is no acknowledgement of merit, in fact, the tradition is to have, to assign all funds, etc. to people who are part of a known structure, therefore to people who are recommended. And so, unfortunately, Italy has too ancient a tradition, you see? Being so old, all these habits have remained in place and it is difficult to change these habits, because, in fact, I look at what I have done in this field, and try for example to help the Telethon Foundation, because the Telethon Foundation had already started to have a system of acknowledgement of merit, which was very, very good, and I was part of their committee for several years and I saw that that was the system they followed. But few organisations have this, certainly not the Italian National Research Council, for example.

[Q] It seems the Italian National Research Council has disappointed you, why did it disappoint you so much. You returned with... it seemed that there was all the support, etc. and then things didn't go well?

Precisely. No, then, for example, I remember that a few years ago, they asked me to participate in a... there were funds to be assigned for the... what is it called, the cystic thing, of the lung...

[Q] Cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis. So we had to carry out a review and institutions from all over Italy were applying. So we examined everything and the committee, which also contained other highly proficient people, in the end, we decided who could have the funds and who not, you see? And included in the 'who not' were also some organisations from Lazio, in Rome... well, and you know, these organisations appealed to the Lazio Regional Administrative Court and the latter overturned our decision. So, you see how it works: you make science, but then politics comes along and takes over.

[Q] So, the politics of incompetents!

You understand then? You can't do anything!

[Q] In merito al presente, che anche... a come siamo adesso e alle difficoltà che ci sono di fare ricerca, per mezzi e all'esigenza anche di stimolare chi... i 'policy makers' per assegnare dei fondi alla ricerca, che vadano nel punto giusto. Noi, in Italia, abbiamo tanti problemi, però ci sono anche a livello europeo questi problemi e probabilmente anche... adesso anche in tutti i paesi del mondo. Ritieni che le sollecitazioni da persone di scienza, come te e come altri in altri campi anche, siano sufficienti a motivare i giovani a perseguire le loro ricerche e a non scoraggiarsi?

Ma questo è di nuovo un problema estremamente difficile, perché, vedi, prendendo la situazione italiana, il guaio della situazione italiana è due, sono due cose. Uno, io credo, il guaio principale è che non c'è riconoscimento del merito che, insomma, la tradizione è di avere, di assegnare tutti i fondi, ecc. a persone che sono parte di una struttura nota, insomma perciò a persone che sono raccomandate, diciamo così. E questo, purtroppo, l'Italia ha una tradizione troppo antica, capisci? Essendo così antica, tutte queste abitudini sono rimaste ed è difficile cambiare queste abitudini, perché, insomma, io guarda, quello che ho fatto in questo campo, è cercare di, per esempio, di aiutare la Fondazione Telethon, perché la Fondazione Telethon aveva già cominciato ad avere un sistema di riconoscimento di merito, che era molto molto buono, e io insomma ho fatto parte della loro commissione per alcuni anni, insomma, e ho visto veramente che quello era il sistema da seguire.

[Q] Ma ben poche organizzazioni hanno questo, certo non il CNR, per esempio. Il CNR, diciamo che ti ha deluso, perché ti ha deluso enormemente... sei tornato con delle... sembrava che ci fosse tutto l'appoggio ecc. le cose non sono andate.

Appunto. No, poi, per esempio, mi ricordo che, alcuni anni fa, mi hanno chiesto di partecipare a un... c'era dei fondi per la... come si chiama la cosa cistica, del polmone.

[Q] La fibrosi cistica.

Quella fibrosi cistica da assegnare, perciò dovevamo rivedere e c'erano istituzioni di tutta Italia che facevano domanda, così. Abbiamo esaminato tutto e il comitato, che aveva delle altre persone molto, molto brave, alla fine insomma abbiamo deciso chi poteva avere i fondi e chi no, capisci? E chi no era anche qualche organizzazione nel Lazio, a Roma... beh, sai queste qui hanno fatto ricorso al TAR del Lazio e il TAR ha annullato il nostro giudizio. Dunque, vedi, come si fa: tu fai la scienza, ma poi viene la politica e ti taglia via.

[Q] La politica degli incompetenti, poi!

Capisci? Non puoi far niente poi!

The Italian biologist Renato Dulbecco (1914-2012) had early success isolating a mutant of the polio virus which was used to create a life-saving vaccine. Later in his career, he initiated the Human Genome Project and was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975 for furthering our understanding of cancer caused by viruses.

Listeners: Paola De Paoli Marchetti

Paola De Paoli Marchetti is a science journalist who graduated with an honours degree in foreign languages and literature from the University Ca’Foscari, Venice. She has been a science journalist since the 1960s and has been on the staff of the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore since 1970. She was elected president of UGIS (Italian Association of Science Journalists) in 1984. She has been a Member of the Board of EUSJA (European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations, Strasbourg), and was its president in 1987-1988 and 1998-2000. In May 2000 she was unanimously elected president emeritus. She was a member of the National Council of Italian Journalists (1992-1998). From 2002 to 2004 she was member of the working group for scientific communication of the National Committee for Biotechnology. She has also been a consultant at the Italian Ministry of Research and Technology and editor-in-chief of the publication MRST, policy of science and technology. She has co-authored many publications in the field of scientific information, including Le biotecnologie in Italia, Le piste della ricerca and Luna vent’anni dopo.

Tags: Telethon Foundation, Lazio Regional Administrative Court

Duration: 4 minutes

Date story recorded: May 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008