In Italy the debate over the escape of brilliant young scientists to foreign countries has been going on for decades now. Italians like to debate, much less to solve their own problems. So although the problem is clearly identified and a recipe to solve it is evident, nobody does anything to implement the solution. Which, of course, would be to raise salaries to researchers and allow for quicker and easier ways to access a career for young post-docs.

A confirmation that Italians have the potential to be good scientists, and that their better exploitation would bring dividends to their country, comes from an analysis of ERC grants (ERC stands for European Research Council). These grants are given to promising young researchers and they are a good yardstick to evaluate the potential of different countries, if analyzed in the correct way. One such attempt is provided by the graph below.

As you can see, the analysis distinguishes researchers by country of origin, and also divides them depending on whether they operate in the country where they have their nationality or elsewhere. One thus observes that German researchers are those most effective in winning grants, closely followed by Italian ones (of course the numbers are not divided by the total population of the countries of origin, which would change the picture significantly).

The most startling feature of the graph is however not the ranking of the various countries, but the "anomaly" due to the large downward-extending bar of Italian researchers who work abroad: this can be seen to be a merely Italian phenomenon (forget non-European countries, whose nationals cannot by definition win grants in their own country).

I believe the above is a rather dramatic demonstration of the phenomenon of the "escape of brains" from Italy. Mind you, I have no problem with the fact that these individuals end up furthering their research in other countries - I have no nationalistic feelings. I am mostly concerned with the causes of the phenomenon, which I find an indicator that Italy is a beautiful country to visit, but not the one you should choose to live in.