Unfortunately I was right: at least in predicting that the INFN exam dubbed "R5" would not go deserted. The R5 exam, which in exchange for a stressful pair of written tests (which I am trying to get a hold of, to report on it here) guaranteed nothing that the participants did not have beforehand -a certification of readiness for a temporary position within INFN, which the institute cannot however offer, being short of cash-, saw the participation of 178 candidates among the about 350 who had submitted their application a couple of months ago. Barely more than half: this is a victory, since the participation is sufficient to grant value to the results.
It must be said that many more post-doctoral scientists in experimental particle physics did not even bother to apply. To them goes my sympathy and my best wishes for a better career than what INFN can offer. Of course, I am also sympathetic with the rest of the pack, but admittedly experimental particle physics is an overcrowded field nowadays, and I predict it will be even more so in ten years, when it will be clear that basic research should concentrate on other than the high-energy frontier to answer our most fundamental questions on Nature (the bitch).
Since I am in a vein of predictions, let me tell you what was the other part of my foreseeing -which will have to wait to be proven right or wrong: contrarily to what would be wise and just to do, INFN will end up using the yes/no tag that the R5 exam has attached to those 178 compliant post-docs. Because not doing so would be utterly inconsistent, and inconsistency these days is a very bad policy for an institute which is watched closely by the government, eager to control it and anxious to punish its staff, which hides many opposers to the government. Berlusconi's dwarfs and dancers have been subtly attacking the foundations of free research in Italy for a while now, and they are just waiting for a pretext to dismantle it.
If Berlusconi does not fall for the sea of scandals he has been floating on in the recent past -which allegedly include unconvicted bribing of a convicted corrupt lawyer, stalking of underage girls, exploitation of prostitution, private use of public air freight, etcetera- I fear INFN will be the next target of his government, which since its installment in 2008 has been deploying a multi-threaded plan to dismantle free research, reduce the role of public universities, shrink funding of public schools. All for the sake of creating a classist society, where the rich have more privileges.
No, I do not blame those younger colleagues who have long decided that Italy is not the place to do research. As for me, I keep doing my job. We will see who will be still standing in a few years, Berlusconi and Licio Gelli's plan of national rebirth, or a free country.
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