Sometimes Nature News makes me sad. Recently has been one such time, and frankly there’s only one country to blame: Italy. In the past three weeks there have been two stories that make me somewhat sad, and more than a little concerned for the state of science in the azure nation.
The first was frankly bizarre. At the start of March, some cock decided it was a good idea to set fire to the Città della Scienza in Naples (read the Science Museum), utterly destroying Italy’s biggest science communication complex. That, in of itself, is bad news. What was far worse, however, was the response of Il Foglio (read Daily Mail… actually don’t, no-one should have to do that), which proclaimed the fire a “purification against the scourge of evolutionism”, in the words of one correspondent. Crackpots on the internet is one thing, but when a national newspaper is glorying in the destruction of a centre of learning, it rather demonstrates the need to NOT BURN DOWN THE CENTRES OF LEARNING!
The second, just last week, is sadly not isolated to the fair shores of Italia. Last weekend, animal rights activists broke into a Milanese lab. They chained themselves to the doors to prevent them being opened, mixed up cards and animals, stole several animals and broadcast the names of researchers on Facebook. Eventually they were evicted, with the promise of being allowed to return and remove more animals (it is unclear if this is actually going to happen). Setting aside the debate on animal rights, the actions of this group are totally negative and irresponsible on three counts. Firstly, by destroying the experiments within the lab, they have set the work of the lab (on correlates of autism and schizophrenia) back years. These are distressing conditions that new techniques, including those in animals, offer a real chance of alleviating. By removing these animals, the activists have indirectly harmed human beings. Not that they care; their disregard both for the work of the scientists (students who had lost their entire PhD’s work were seen crying in the corridors – frankly I don’t blame them) and for their privacy shows that the ‘compassion’ of these protestors is a sick hypocrisy. The final irony would be delicious if it wasn’t so sad; the mice removed by the animal rights group were genetically modified to be immuno-compromised, and therefore were kept in very favourable and tightly controlled conditions in the lab. Their removal has been their death sentence.
Obviously this isn’t Italy’s fault; there are many fine people in Italy, of all creeds, and both of these incidents have led to outrage in the country. However, there is a disturbing undercurrent in the view of science in Italy, and it is this undercurrent being shown to the world. Several of the comments on these articles expressed a similar concern – the intelligent majority in Italy needs to become more vociferous and drown these absurd retrogrades.