Rosetta: the disconcerting reaction of Italian right-wing media.

Rosetta project’s success can be considered as the best achievement of space exploration in European history, a victory for the mankind and for anyone supporting European unification, as I do. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to appreciate, or to understand the scale of this event.

What I am going to report, it’s just shocking. The Italian channel Rete4 played a crucial and cussed role in the rise and establishment of Berlusconi’s 20 years long rule. Owned by the Mediaset group, the news channel used to faithfully and slavishly spread the conservative propaganda, with a long list of mystifications, and continuous attacks to minorities and homosexuals. As Berlusconi turned his foreign policy into a deeply anti-European and pro-Russian action, his media followed him with unjustified and false attacks to the European Union. They never dealt that much with Science too, supporting very often creationism and funding cutoffs to research. After Rosetta landing, Rete4 decided to give its opinion. What it follows is the literal translation of the Rete4 commentary.

If we had ever found a truly fascinating celestial body, even more than the moon, that would be a comet, with its shiny tail, visible during the day too. (…) Even if almost nobody knew that, from 2004 the ESA (European Space Agency) is working to waste us this image. Ten years ago, Rosetta probe was launched, and after a very long and lonely voyage, has now reached the 67P comet, more than 800 Kms away from the Sun. Here’s the pictures, the crude pictures, of a big dusty stone. On this rock, a robot will land down in a few hours, and it will make an hole on the surface. It almost hurts to know that the drill was built in Italy. A stone, nothing more than a stone, not even with the dark fascination the terrible comet had in the movie Armageddon. Scientists are most likely the only ones to get excited for this. They explain that Rosetta mission will bring us insights on the origins of life, that probably came on the Earth right on the tail of a comet. The mission costed, until now, more than 100 millions euro. Honestly too much, even to retrieve an archaeological relic of the universe.

If you understand Italian language, here’s the full video.

There are three main things I want to point out about this creepy comment. The first is evident: the low cultural level of the person who wrote this. The superficiality with which the whole fact is reported, and the poor language, are proving that the editorial staff just ignores the basics of Science that are expected at a School level. The second point is also relevant, even if not very evident. The commentary highlights the difference between the beauty of art and religion, and the cruel realism and rationality of Science. This is, unfortunately, very common in Italy. For historical reasons, Science has always been deemed as a minor culture, respect the dominating humanistic culture. The third thing to underline, is about the money. They point out that the project costed more than 100 million euro, but they “forget” to mention that the amount has been spent in ten years and, doing the math, any european payed 3.50 euro to get this extraordinary result.

I understand that if I keep reporting all the defects of my country, readers will run into bore, but I think there are some points of interest in this story. The “war on Science” is a common feature of conservative policies all around the world, and Sarah Pailin’s awkward statement on Drosophila research is just one of the many possible examples. In any context, the war on Science proceeds with the same strategy. The trust in Science is weakened in public opinion, by diffusing misconceptions, superstitions and conspiracy theories. This effort is reinforced by a systematic cut-off policy in public education. This provides the suitable ground to decimate the public funding in research. The ultimate aim is to kill the critical thinking, in order to better control the public opinion and be eased in populistic and racist campaigns.

Differently from the US, where the importance of research funding is still well understood at government level, in Italy this attack worked a lot. Schools are in the red, public research funding just ceased to exist, our school students are the most ignorant in Europe, and racism is spreading out with alarming rapidity.

Luckily, things are changing as the Berlusconi’s rule went belly up. The most of commenters on social networks are literally rising up against the Mediaset’s TV channel, whose comment didn’t killed the interest in Rosetta project historic achievement.

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4 thoughts on “Rosetta: the disconcerting reaction of Italian right-wing media.”

  1. Fabio… Thanks so much for writing about this subject – and I feel lucky to have been able to read your words, let alone comment on your article. I recently read, thankfully, about the acquittal of the geologists who were brought to trial for not predicting the earthquake, the consequences of which, unfortunately killed people. Those accusations stunned me, and finally, of course, an innocent verdict was announced – phew… there are still sane heads in Italy! We lived in Rome for a few years and understand what the just awful and unfair consequences of Berlusconi’s policies have had. Thanks, again for your article. ((There seems to be a concerted and organized effort by right-wing political parties in many countries of the West/Europe (USA, especially) to fight against, and deny positive publicity of and for, any objective views and doctrines (including the best that Science can develop) that do not fit well within the, what seems to have become a corrupt, and morally bankrupt, politico-corporate world…. And Berlusconi, imho, is a prominent person in that world.))

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  2. Thank you very much for your comment, Plenum. I am very glad that you’re putting so much interest in what is going on here in Italy. I believe that many facts, even if occurring in very different and far places, can show common traits, and we could understand a lot if we get to compare them.

    I think the point is that cognitive work is pivotal in current industrial production, and the main aim of political-corporate world is still to prevent the masses from a direct access to production and its economical benefits. Also, the war on Science has a meaning in the development of collective critical thinking. Keeping people scared or just annoyed by Science, is a well known public opinion control strategy. The nazis knew that quite a lot, as witnessed by Goebble’s quote “As I hear about Culture, I hand my gun”.

    Definitely, critical thinking, open science and democracy are deeply interlinked, and spreading out science has a big potential in democracy and life conditions improvement.

    The sentence about the earthquake has been really awkward, worth of a middle- age inquisition. Luckily, and for historical reasons, when the Republic of Italy was born and the Constitution was written (1946- 1948), we have designed a very balanced and wise juridical system. It can fail, but it’s provided with a lot of feedbacks to fix any mistake and bring sentences to reasonability.

    Thank you again for your comment.

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  3. Just a few points about this article.

    1) It is quite unfair to assign that article to the entire italian media. Yes you do specify that it is just about Rete4 but the title is quite more general, and contributes to create an unrealistic image of Italy. In all the other Mediaset channels and in the very same Rete4 news at different hours, the Rosetta achievement has been described and recognised fairly with all the enthusiasm that it deserves. That was just a single “bad turn” of a single “ignorant” journalist, who has been obviously ridiculed.

    2) Creationism is mostly an issue in the US rather than in Italy where the pope Francis himself has denied the strict historic interpretation of the Genesis and only very very old people, and old country priests still stick to it. And we can say that old people is quite the target con Rete4 even if that “thing” cannot be part of any strategy having been a self destructive action.

    3) The humanistic heritage of Italy is a reality and it is one of the few things that still saves the country. I have had a humanistic formation myself before turning to Computer Science and Software/Automation Engineering and it is in no way in contrast with any Science. On the contrary it only provides – at a personal level- a cultural background for any Science to grow in a even more vivid way. Italy does not thrives on war as much as USA does (since we know that any scientific/technology achievement is researched mostly and primary for its militar use and only then released for civilian applications) and books cost less than advanced research instruments. Still it is a pity that in Italy we have so small a budget on Research but that has been the trend in every single government, be it left or right winged if you take off small formal differences. But there is no war, not even at an intellectual level, between scientific and humanistic studies unless by ignorance someone brings it himself.

    4) your comment is quite polarised in political terms. In a very “Left-Right” manner as if Left or Right still existed in Italy since De Gasperi onwards (we are talking about the ’50s). They are just a single and unique bunch of clowns, acrobats and charlatans that squeeze and twist, put forward that name, or the other as the focal point for the masses, but they are all one flock. There is no Left and there is no Right, there’s just a farce going on with the only purpose to “divide and conquer” a people that “loses wars as is they were football matches and football matches as if they were wars”. Their only purpose is to preserve their privileges (and they have more than in any other civilised country). So with your “Luckily there are changes since Berlusconi went belly up” you seem to show trust on the new lead, our -already europe-wide derided- “Mr. Renzie”… well mate, nothing has changed as nothing ever changed in Italy, just a new name and a new mask, and the same old tune.

    Perhaps you’ve done well to move abroad and to pursue your passion beyond the bonds of an ungrateful and unproviding homeland, but there are people here who remain and grind their bones in the attempt to move things forward even when easier options are made available for them: in your shoes I would think twice before firing at this direction, along with bad guys, even with all the premises and “distinguo” that you have made, you strike down a lot of innocent and good-willed people.

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  4. Thank you for your comment. I will respond point-by-point.

    1) The title talks about “Italian right wing media”, that are the conservatives one. As you definitely will know, all the conservative media in Italy are held by Berlusconi (totally or partially).
    So, no, I did not address this behaviour to the whole Italian press, but to a specific part of it.

    2) Yes, in Italy creationism is not very popular, and I also wrote with favour about the Pope Francis’ statements about Darwin’s evolution on this blog. Though, you may not remember that, in 2002, the Ministry of Education Mariastella Gelmini proposed to include creationism in the public school coursework, and that Roberto de Mattei, the former director of our National Council for Research, that is the major Italian research institution, was a proven creationist. So, even if Italy is far from being comparable to the US, creationism is quite a lot spread among conservative environments.

    3) I do not blame Italy for being full of humanistic culture, literature and art. Of course not. I blame our public education system for providing a seriously lossy formation in Science at school.

    4) Italian politics is living a very long transitional period. After the downfall of historical parties at the beginning of the 90s, Italian society failed in building up a new political system able to represent the political identities. Among all the contradictions, I am definitely sure that we had no political group that tackled Science and Culture as bad as Berlusconi’s coalition did. I don’t like and did not vote for Renzi, I am pretty aware that the current government is very awful, but there is no comparison with what the right-wing did over the 20 years when it ruled Italy.

    Ultimately, I have left Italy a couple of weeks ago only. Before, I used to fight against the government and its insane policy of funding cut to public education. I fought to the point of being chased by the police during the riots in several occasions. After having spent years in fighting this situation, I had the need to back to Science and to care about my career. I am definitely aware about the meaning of living in Italy and fighting its unbearable situation.

    I hope to have clarified any concern. Saluti e grazie per il commento.

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