Nature published an article “Row over proposed Italian biomedical centre intensifies. Document submitted to the Italian Senate criticizes institute that will oversee a €1.5-billion project” about the Human Technopole project. There were several comments, including this one, that have been delated with this explanation: “A user has reported the comments being posted on “Row over proposed Italian biomedical centre intensifies” as being offensive and defamatory.We are hereby removing all comments, including your comments below, and closing the discussion.”.
IIT is one of the most opaque and alarming operations ever done in Italy. IIT is a private foundation, but funded through public money, a rather unique case in Italy. IIT is made up of several research centres, while IIT also collaborates with several universities. However, the criteria through which IIT selects and appoints IIT centres’ directors as well as the way external collaborators at universities are chosen are unknown.
Main IIT scores are: 1 billion in ten years got from the State; only ½ has been spent while the rest lie in several bank accounts, as the press has recently uncovered (apparently with no clear reason for this diversification); only 1% of the budget comes from the industry or the private sector rather than 100 %. This despite when IIT was founded in 2003, its governing bodies promised that IIT would have lived out of private investments, rather than public ones.
It is important to highlight that IIT’s mission is not focussed on fundamental research: “The Foundation aims to promote technological development of the country and the high technological training, in line with the guidelines of the scientific policy and National Technology Agency, thus promoting the development of the national production system”. It is largely questionable that this mission has been accomplished. For this reason IIT requires an independent evaluation, something that it still missing. As an example, just look at the authors of the comments above positive with respect to IIT: they are all involved in a way or another with IIT (e.g. IIT visiting scientist, IIT members of committees).
As one of the editors of the blog Roars.it (probably the most visible Italian forum for discussions concerning research and higher education policies – see here) I have contributed to formulate ten questions to the IIT board in order to open a public discussion with the Italian scientific community (see here) So far, we got no answers, despite we did ask those questions several months ago. And despite IIT was chosen to design and lead the Human Technopole, a new government research project that would drain a lot of resources from public universities and research institutes. We hope that Nature will consider our questions and will help the Italian scientific community to switch on the light on this very opaque and alarming operation. These are the questions:
1. Why does IIT not follow the rules on transparency and integrity that regulate the Italian public bodies, given that almost all of its funds come directly from the state budget? Why IIT annual budget reports, unlike those of universities, are not publicly available?
2. Why, unlike the case for universities, contracts, salaries and methods of selection of consultants and employees of IIT are not publicly available?
3. Why, unlike the case for universities, data concerning the political-administrative IIT control organs – including administrative assignments and salaries of administrative executives — are not publicly available? How long does the scientific director charge last, given that Robert Cingolani (IIT scientific director) was appointed in 2005? How he was selected?
4. On what basis and by what procedures researchers have been hired with a permanent position? Who chooses whom to hire and whom to leave in the insecurity? How many researchers do leave IIT each year when their contracts expire?
5. Through which selection’s criteria and by whom the managers of the IIT centres were chosen? Why these procedures are not publicly available as for universities?
6. Who decides and through which criteria which university research groups should be financed by IIT? What form the collaboration between IIT and some Italian universities have? And how much do they cost? Why these procedures are not transparent and public as it occurs for the financing lines of the Ministry of Education and major research centres in Europe?
7. Why, unlike what happens in universities, citizens who finance IIT with their taxes cannot read neither acts of the IIT Council or the Executive Committee, nor the acts underlying the decisions taken by IIT Scientific Director?
8. From what we read on its website, IIT appears to perform an internal evaluation activity. Who chooses the members of the evaluation board, with what procedures and what is their reward? How can a body appointed by IIT itself make a thorough and plausible evaluation? And, above all, where one can read the final evaluation reports?
9. How much is the cost per article of IIT? How many articles are published by IIT staff who has a double affiliation (IIT and an Italian or foreign university)?
10. Who was in charge of establishing the 7 research centres of the Human Technopole and who selected the directors of each centre? Under which criteria and procedures such selections were made?