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20 October 2008

Dear Editor

Una letterina, che non verrà mai pubblicata (update: infatti...), da me inviata al prestigioso giornale di moda Nature a proposito di questo editoriale .

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To: correspondence@nature.com

Sir - Your editorial Nature 455, 835-836 (16 October 2008) is inaccurate in its report of the Italian situation on several counts.

First: when you state that a law would dispose of nearly 2,000 temporary research staff (backing this up with the front line of the article on p.840 2000 Italian researchers will lose promised permanent positions under a law etc.) you are overlooking two major points.
One: the researchers in question are temporary staff to whom the "ope legis stabilization" law granted out of the blue a "stabilization" of their position based exclusively on the duration of their previous service, and without any reference to scientific quality. The latter law, issued by the previous government, is actually a truly hideous piece of populistic demagogy, based on the ongoing ideological rhetoric about the supposed protection of "precari", i.e. temporary staff at large.
Two: the figure of 2000 researchers in fact results from "only" 4500 temporary staff, instead of the original 6500, being absorbed by the public administration (CRN, INFN, ASI, etc.) according to the stabilization law.

Second: you state that Berlusconi decreed that the budgets of both universities and research could be used as funds to shore up Italy's banks and credit institutes. This is grossly inaccurate : a) all cuts to university/research funding were decided way before the stocks market and bank system crisis, and reference to them in the decree is purely formal (i.e. the cuts were not made for that purpose, they just concur to the available budget); b) the decree has made it *possible* for the State to intervene in support of the banking system, but no actual step has (yet) been taken. To be fair and slightly less anti-italian, you might want to inquire about how the actual, massive ongoing bail-outs of banks in Belgium, France, Sweden, Germany, England (Dexia, Fortis, Citi, B&B, etc.) were funded.

Third: the rule that one in five of any vacant academic positions [should] be filled is going to apply only in 2009, with a gradual turnover increase in the following years. Also, the freeze-out of public hiring (which has been, truth be told, systematically circumvented in recent years) is obviously not a token of just this government, but a tool wielded by a number of past Italian administrations in cutting public expenses.

That said, as an active researcher based in Italy I do nevertheless agree that the state of public, as well as private, funding of research is lamentable.

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