Nature, 30 March 2006
Alison Abbott

Italians put science chief on the spot

Italian scientists are pressuring the president of the National Research Council (CNR) to justify his plans for reforming the agency — and to come clean about his academic background. Up to 1,000 scientists from across Italy are expected to gather in Rome on 30 March to demonstrate over their unhappiness with the CNR’s management team — installed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government two years ago. The council runs almost 100 of Italy’s research institutes. “We are particularly concerned about the administrative council’s plans to restructure the CNR’s institutes, merging them into 67 entities — based only on bureaucratic not scientific considerations,” says Rino Falcone of the CNR Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technology in Rome. Falcone helped to organize the march following a report in Nature earlier this month that described researchers’ increasingly public dissatisfaction with the government’s science policy (see Nature 440, 264–265; 2006). The Nature article also reported that CNR president Fabio Pistella had supported his candidature for the presidency with a CV claiming 150 publications. Only three have been identified by Thomson ISI searches, but Pistella retorted that his role required only “management skills”. On 21 March, 39 of Italy’s most highly cited scientists sent an open letter to Pistella claiming that this response to the “serious” charge “did not fit the dignity” of his function as CNR president. The letter also accuses Pistella of having helped cause the decline of Italy’s energy and environment agency — which he headed before joining the CNR. It asks him to clarify the criteria for his proposed restructuring of the CNR so as to prevent it from suffering the same fate as the energy agency. Finally, the letter challenges Pistella to reveal the details of his scientific publications. “We believe this is the only way to restore a relationship of trust and dialogue with the entire national and international scientific community,” it says. Pistella has responded with a promise to publish his full reference list on the CNR website. But he had not done so by the time Nature went to press.