Friday, December 28, 2012

Lesser minds

I would like to express my impression after reading the book "Ingegni Minuti - Una storia della scienza in Italia" ("Lesser minds - A story of science in Italy") by Lucio Russo ed Emanuela Santoni. I say impression because the authors don't put forward any hypothesis, they just describe facts, but sometimes facts speak for themselves.

The book is characterized by a remarkable historical depth and wealth of documentation. It goes over the full history of science in Italy, starting with the appearance of the first texts about the abacus and the rediscovery of classical science in the Renaissance, through the decadence of scientific investigation in Italy with the end of the XVII century, till the partial reprise the occurred after the unification and after the Second World War.

A thesis that underlies the whole book is that scientific investigation is greatly impoverished and can't flourish if it's separated from the technical and economical needs of the society in which it occurs.

Recovery after WWII

Coming to the point. After the Second World War, Italy recovers with surprising vigor. It's a period of great vitality in many areas, from cinema to literature, from industry to scientific research.

CNRN (Comitato Nazionale per la Ricerca Nucleare), later renamed CNEN (Comitato Nazionale per l'Energia Nucleare) is among the institutions that lead the technical and scientific endeavors. It is directed by Felice Ippolito. The ISS (Istituto Superiore di Sanità), directed by Domenico Marotta, takes Italian Biology to the forefront of international research.

Enrico Mattei
In the meantime, in the sector of energy sources, Enrico Mattei leads a campaign to search for oil and gas sources under the Italian soil and sea. At the same time it strikes direct contracts with producing countries in the Middle East, bypassing foreign established Corporations (the Seven Sisters).

Last but non least, Italian industry enters the most advance sectors, such as electronics. In 1959 Olivetti produces the first Italian computer, called Elea 9003.

A series of startling facts

At the beginning of the sixties, various unexpected events take place. Between 1962 and 1964, both Ippolito and Marotta are accused of fraud and discredited. On October the 27th 1962, Enrico Mattei dies when the airplane he was flying on is hyjacked and crashes. 

In 1964 Olivetti sells its Divisione Elettronica to General Electric, giving up the chance of competing in a scientific/industrial area then in frenetic expansion.

Buzzati Traverso
During that year, in April, Buzzati-Traverso writes on the newspaper L'Espresso:
"A new witch-hunt has been let loose in Italy, putting discredit on the hole scientific community and thus compromising a sector that, after many difficulties and struggles, was recovering well, and that, on the other hand, is essential for the country. What is being sought? That Italy remains outside of the great world movement of the scientific revolution? That the best scientists leave the country?"

In 1973 Giuliano Toraldo di Francia, a physicist, sums up the situation of science in Italy in these terms: "Italy is regressing instead of developing [è un paese in via di sottosviluppo, a humorous sentence difficult to translate]".


So, the impression I have after reading these facts, is the that at the beginning of the Sixties a deliberate policy was adopted to hold back Italy, far from the front line of scientific research and crucial industrial sectors, cutting the link between research and production, necessary for the health of both. Besides, it is not difficult to imagine the this unfortunate choice was born outside Italy, as other obscure events in the history of the country in those years. Who should Italians thank?

No comments:

Post a Comment