Ignazio R. Marino* writes in Correspondence in the current issue of Nature (453, 449; 22 May 2008):
‘Italy must invest more in science and technology’ according to I. Bertini, S. Garattini and R. Rappuoli in Correspondence (Nature 452, 685; 2008). They lament the Italian lack of financial resources and political attention for research, technology and education. As a researcher, clinician and academician, I share their concerns. However, as former chair of the health committee of the Italian Senate, I take exception to their implication that none of the major political parties recognizes science, technology and education as crucial for the future of the country’s economy.
The 2007 and 2008 national budget laws, drawn up when the centre-left coalition was in power, allocated 96 million (US$149 million) to projects submitted by researchers under 40 years old. These are judged by an international committee comprising ten scientists under 40 — five from foreign institutions — selected according to impact factor and citation index scores. This alone is a revolutionary approach for the unregulated Italian system of research funding allocation.
In spite of such advances, Italy is still far behind in research investment, and this needs to change. But the crucial switch is not simply to increase funding. The way the new government should proceed is to reform the allocation criteria for funding and to start applying across the board the selection and evaluation rules of peer review. Such a system would acknowledge meritocracy and free researchers from the virtual slavery under which they have been kept by old academicians.
By applying international rules of peer review and evaluating grant applications only on the basis of merit, looking at curricula and objectives, comparing lists of publications and evaluating results, we will provide opportunities for Italy’s scientists, thereby promoting the country’s intellectual, cultural and economic growth.
*Department of Surgery, Jefferson Medical College, 19107 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, and Senate of the Republic of Italy, Piazza Madama snc, 00186 Rome, Italy.