La Repubblica, Business and Finance Supplement, 8 July 2002
"In search of responsibility in innovation"
by Laura Kiss
The latest initiative was to invite economist Richard Nelson to the Bocconi to speak
about the risks of conditioning in scientific research. The Fondazione Giannino Bassetti,
which actively promotes the debate on the responsibilities of scientific innovation, has
been taking forward the study of innovation in business for ten years now, with a
particular focus on the influence of new modes of production on social, economic, ethical
and political conditions in society. As Piero Bassetti, the nephew of Giannino, the
president of the Foundation, explains: "Scientific and technological innovation are
not subjected to any monitoring by the institutions. They are subject only to the logic of
the markets, not least because it is difficult to establish the consequences of
innovation. Products are developed with the market in mind, while what is actually needed
is to establish a criterion of responsibility that should involve all the players
concerned, from the university where the research is carried out to the business
world". The Fondazione Bassettis proposal is to widen the debate on two
fundamental issues: what is innovation and what does responsibility mean? With this end in
mind, and thanks to the site www.fondazionebassetti.org, debates and discussion forums are
being set up in which scientists and personalities from the worlds of culture, politics
and business are invited to take part.
"For us the site is extremely important. We now have 40,000 visitors a month and 30 single visits a day. We are a small Foundation and deal with highly complex issues, so opening up a worldwide debate via the Internet helps us immensely". To gauge peoples awareness of issues like biotechnology, the Fondazione, together with Poster, a social research centre, has conducted a survey entitled Biotechnologies and Public Opinion in Italy on a sample of 1,017 people, under the scientific supervision of Federico Neresini and Giuseppe Pellegrini from the University of Padua and Massimiano Bucchi from the University of Trento. It emerged from the survey that Italians are putting their trust more and more in consumers associations (43.3%), followed by universities and scientists (19.6%), and less and less in environmentalists and the authorities (at 18.4% and 10% respectively). People want to see very precise limits set on research and they would ideally like to have GM foods available at zero risk. And they would like the institutions to listen to them when legislative decisions are being made. "Our aim with this research was to contribute to the debate on responsibility in innovation", says Bassetti. "If innovation needs rules and guidelines, who is going to put them in place? Who will be responsible for the decisions taken? There are so many actors: politicians, the scientific community, industry, public opinion. On the question of biotechnology the assumption of responsibility emerges in all its complexity. We are discussing this issue with the Lombardy regional authority to launch a project that envisages the assumption of responsibility by firms. There are no institutions taking forward serious projects in this area or asking questions about who should answer for innovation: the only people doing this are the scientists, whose task, however, is to make discoveries rather than put the results of their innovation to profitable use. We hope, therefore, to be able to contribute to the development of the concept of responsibility".