My last interview with Margherita Hack

by | Jun 29, 2013 | Information and content

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She passed away today Margherita Hack , an Italian astrophysicist who has always engaged in battles to clear scientific research from the conservative dogmas of politics and religion. A free thinker and influential scientist, she has never had a problem fighting for the progress and development of Italy despite the harsh criticism of some strong powers that have controlled this country for so many years.

As a journalist, I have had the good fortune to interview Margherita Hack on several occasions. I remember his kindness and willingness to answer my questions, the chats with that unmistakable Tuscan accent, the conviction and passion in his words, but above all the great lucidity in spite of his advanced age.

To remember Margherita Hack, I publish on this blog the last interview I did with her. It was July 12, 2011. In this dialogue on the limits of science we touch on topics that two years later are still relevant, such as nuclear power, the Tav, and state policies on research. His positions are clear-cut, one can agree or disagree. There is certainly no shortage of food for thought from the statements of one of the greatest Italian women of recent years. I personally found his words, his courage and his passion toward research and progress inspiring.

Having said that, I leave you with my latest interview with Margherita Hack, perhaps one of the best of my career as a journalist.

Scientific progress has been frequently called upon in recent months in connection with topical issues that have shaped the Italian political agenda, from the referendum to major works. There are those who have been champions of innovation in defending novelties and those who have expressed fear of them. And there are those who have wondered how far research can be pushed, whether there are limits that should not be exceeded, and whether to dare too much does not risk getting burned. This is what we asked renowned astrophysicist and popularizer of science Margherita Hack.

Science has the task of investigating and discovering the rules of the world. Science can be useful for humanity, but at the same time harmful. I am thinking, for example, of nuclear energy, which was also used to build the atomic bomb. So we need to continue the research by trying to make the best use of the findings.”

Speaking of nuclear power, what is your position in the aftermath of the referendum?

“I am in favor of research, however, right now in Italy we are governed by people who are incapable of rebuilding L’Aquila or removing the garbage from the streets of Naples. I am afraid to have nuclear power plants in this country where, if the mafia also got their hands on the waste, it would be even worse than the waste. But we still need to move forward with the research. Renewable sources also have limits. For example, there is a need for large areas, and in an overpopulated country like ours, space would be taken away from tourism and agriculture. As for wind farms, they would not be sufficient because Italy does not have the continuous winds of the Baltic areas. Energy produced by nuclear fusion could be a viable alternative because it leaves no waste behind.”

In Slovenia, just a few kilometers from its Trieste, a nuclear power plant has been operating now for about thirty years. After the Fukushima disaster, should one be afraid to live near such a plant?

“I am almost 90 years old now and I am no longer afraid. You have to ask the young people. Disasters like the one in Japan are exceptional cases. That is an earthquake zone in which there was a larger-than-expected tsunami putting even a serious country like Japan in trouble. But precisely because it is an exceptional case, we should not be alarmed. We have to import nuclear power and also gas and oil from Libya and Ukraine. We are dependent on foreign countries.”

Always progress is sometimes used as a pretext to justify major works such as the bridge over the Strait of Messina and the Turin-Lyon high-speed line.

“Some works are necessary. But the Strait Bridge was designed in earthquake zones and therefore will never be done. It would be wiser instead to intensify ferry crossings between Calabria and Sicily. In contrast, the Tav is very useful: the Florence-Rome and Rome-Naples lines have reduced traffic and improved connections between North and South. However, in order to achieve it, efforts must be made to minimize the environmental impact, such as using old routes and reducing the number of stations. Environmental damage may be there, for example, during the construction of the Florence-Bologna road, waterways in the Apennines were ruined. In such cases one should stop and find solutions that safeguard the environment.”

What about listening to local realities?

“Local realities are often influenced by fears and prejudices. However, confrontation is necessary, and in the end a compromise solution must be reached.”

How does the state stand in the face of progress and research?

“Bad. Today the people who govern us are ignorant and arrogant. Minister Roberto Maroni said there is no eating with research. Instead, it is preciselyinnovation that can bring greater prosperity. Back in the 1960s, Olivetti with the model 101 would make the first computer. The IT industry that has grown in the United States and Japan could have developed in Italy, but it did not. From the first we could have been, we became the last. Italy’s problem is the short-sightedness of the ruling class, both technical and political.”

Luigi Nervo

Luigi Nervo

Digital Marketing Manager

Marketing, Seo and content expert (read the bio).

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Luigi Nervo

Luigi Nervo

Digital Marketing Manager

Marketing, Seo and content expert (read the bio).