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Massimiano Bucchi and Federico Neresini

“We are not afraid of dismantling privilege and have scientists in the

streets, demonstrating and turning in their lab coats and test tubes. I

would like to ask these scientists what great discoveries they have

made. We will probably find out that they haven’t discovered very

much, while so many young researchers are excluded from pursuing

careers.” The words are those of Minister for Education, Universities,

and Research Letizia Moratti, commenting a few months after loud

protests by a large number of Italian scientists against the decision by

the government to restructure research agencies. The protest represented

an important stage of a phenomenon that was without precedent

(not only in Italy) until only a few years ago: the mobilization of

scientific researchers. It also was the most salient moment of an elaborate

public debate on the problems of scientific research in Italy that

carried on throughout 2003. The debate had a number of important

implications, touching on issues such as insufficient investment in

research; the so-called brain drain, that is, the inability to retain competent

researchers, who leave Italy to work in foreign institutes; the

growing dissatisfaction of younger generations with established scientific

research; and the need to remain internationally competitive in

areas of productivity and innovation.