Recently the public debate has been focussed on the reform of the Italian university system and on the cuts in the funds dedicated to research. But what are the public opinion orientations about the role of research and of researchers in the Italian society? The data from the Science and Society Monitor offer a rich contribution to the debate.
A perception that has become widely generalised amongst Italians sees scientific research as an important determinant for economic competitiveness: over 80% reckons that without investing in research a Country is destined to a decline; another widespread perception, intertwined with the previous one, sees too strong an influence from political forces interfering with research.
Judgements on diverse aspects are more complex. Over four Italians out of ten, for instance, state that the freedom of scientists should not be limited, whereas about one third of the interviewees reckons that decisions should not be determined solely by means of auto-regulation on the part of the researchers. Lastly, it is worth noticing also the significant figures relative to those Italians who identify in strong statements about the presence of economic interests in the field of research – 54.6% states that “nowadays also scientists only think about making money” – and about the recruitment and organisational rules – 63.6% thinks that in the world of research only those who stand high in somebody’s favour can advance in their career”.
The higher the education level, the higher the propensity to attribute greater freedom to science, and the lower the critical judgements on the organisational aspects of research, as well as on the determinacy of economic interests for research. In particular, the most “cynical” judgements on the world of research (whereby a researcher’s career advances thanks to personal favours by others and whereby research mainly responds to economic interests) are expressed mainly by the older interviewees and with a low schooling level.
The complete set of results on the survey is published in Arzenton V. and Bucchi M. (2008), “Italians and Science. The first report on science, technology and public opinion in Italy”, in Observa, Science in Society Facts and Figures 2008, Ergon Edizioni 2008.
The survey was conducted by means of CATI-method telephone interviews with a sample of 996 subjects, stratified by gender, age, and geographical area of residence, and representing the Italian population aged 15 and over.
(Translation by Sara Pascoli)