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Nobel Prize in Physics denies scientific brain drain in Italy


Italian physicist Giorgio Parisi will receive a shared Nobel Prize in a ceremony on Monday, but behind the celebrations lies dismay at the brain drain that has seen many young scientists for years go to work abroad.

Some 14,000 Italian researchers left the country between 2009 and 2015, according to the Italian national statistics agency Istat, a trend which is largely due to a lack of investment.

“Italy is not a host country for researchers, whether Italian or foreign,” Parisi said in October after receiving the Nobel Prize for his work on the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems.

“Research is underfunded and the situation has worsened over the past 10 to 15 years.”

Public funding increased from 9.9 billion euros (11.2 billion dollars) in 2007 to 8.3 billion in 2015 – the latest figures available – while in 2019, research spending in the third economy in the euro area were significantly below the EU average.

In addition to Parisi, Italy has produced top scientists over the past decades, including Carlo Rubbia, the CERN physicist who won a Nobel Prize in 1984, and neuroembryologist Rita Levi-Montalcini, who won the Nobel Prize. price in 1986.

But commentators note that research budgets were cut after the 2008 financial crisis, while Italy’s notorious bureaucracy also plays a role in sending young talent overseas.

“In Italy, unfortunately, there are big obstacles to getting a university job,” said Eleonora D’Elia, a 35-year-old biologist from Rome, who has been teaching at Imperial College for four years. London.

She cited “a lack of funding, and available jobs, the necessary contacts and a very complex system based on the number of articles published”.

– Like a vegetable garden –

The scale of the problem was confirmed by Roberto Antonelli, director of the prestigious Lincean Academy in Rome, who told AFP that there had been “a huge reduction in funds for Italian universities and research facilities” .

This was accompanied by a “reduction in the quality of jobs available to young people compared to other countries”.

The number of professors and long-term contracts in universities fell from 60,882 in 2009 to 48,878 in 2016, a drop of almost 20%.

In London, Elia told AFP, there is “more support in terms of salary and research budget”, while in Italy, where she hopes one day to reunite with her family and friends, she “should constantly fight for this”.

The Italian government has pledged to use part of the huge post-pandemic stimulus funds it expects to receive from the European Union by 2026 to help boost local research.

Research Minister Cristina Messa pledged in October six billion euros in funding for 60 projects.

– ‘Like a vegetable garden’ –

Antonelli praised the funds, but warned: “The problem is the continuity of the funding … what will happen after 2026?”

He said research should be measured as a percentage of GDP, which ranges from “the highest like in Finland, Japan and South Korea, to the lowest among developed countries like Italy, which don’t invest money. comparable funds compared to neighbors like Germany or France “.

Italy spent just 1.45% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on research in 2019, below the EU average of 2.19% and Germany’s 3.17% , according to data from the European agency Eurostat.

Parisi also stressed the importance of a long-term vision.

“Research is like a vegetable patch, if you think you can water it every fortnight, things are going to go wrong,” he said.

str-glr / ar / tgb