Italian research minister speaks his mind.
Before last April's general election in Italy, Nature reported deep dissatisfaction among scientists about what they considered disastrous science-policy decisions by Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government. An international conference on evolution in Venice last month was opened by new research minister Fabio Mussi — a member of the Democrats of the Left party, part of the ruling coalition. Known for his bluntness and quick humour, he gave Alison Abbott a snapshot of his plans for putting things right.
Q What is the most important issue?
A Money money money. Italy spends less on science and innovation than it should. We want to increase public investment. We want Italian scientists to make better use of opportunities to win European Union research funds. And we want to find ways to make industry contribute more.
Q What can be done about the much-criticized leadership of organizations such as the Italian Space Agency and the National Research Council?
A It's another very important priority, to change a few presidents of our research organizations. It hasn't proved very easy, but when we have done this, other problems will be much easier to solve.
Q What about the Italian Institute of Technology, conceived by the last government as a version of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and viewed by many as a white elephant?
A This was not born well, but I cannot struggle with my conscience to kill it. It was given €240 million (US$305 million) by the last government that it hasn't spent — we are not going to give it any more money until it does so. I am very much in favour of merging it with the European Institute of Technology [planned by the European Union along similar lines].