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Ratzinger divides, Maiani unites January 17, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, personal, physics, politics, religion, science.

I was amused, and happy, to read Jeff -a professor of Physics, a friend, a commenter here, and usually one in disagreement with me- feeling the wind that has been blowing in Italian affairs since I don’t know when: a wind of political appeasement with the Vatican. The same wind that many of us denounce when italian laws having to do with secular issues are shaped on the directives of the Vatican. Here is Jeff’s comment, which he left on the thread following the post about the failed speech of Ratzinger at La Sapienza

I heard that Luciano Maiani was one of the 67 physicists that signed the letter against inviting the Pope. Luciano was recently nominated to become the head of the CNR, an italian national research entity, a wonderful choice. I admire him greatly.

It turns out that because of his signing the infamous letter he is risking not being confirmed to head the CNR. If this does turn out to be the case then Italy really is in deep shit! I think the 67 were wrong to start this (once the Pope was invited) but the worst thing that could happen is they they be punished for doing so! If the very VERY good Maiani does get sacked for his signing the letter then I AM CHANGING SIDES!

Mind you that I do NOT think hat someone of the Church picked up a phone and pressured for him to be sacked. It is more depressing than that. I think the idiots that make these decision are boneless morons that just play with the wind. The wind now goes that the Pope should have be respected and hence these morons, JUST TO SUCK UP, and puff up their medaless chests think it is best to sack Maiani. Simply disgusting

I fear I am profoundly fed up with Italy and italians (stufo)


Jeff, take a ticket, there’s a long queue – we’ve been there since a while ago!

As for Maiani, it goes without saying that I totally agree. And mind you, the 67 who signed the letter were only those that could – the letter was private, and according to Andrea Frova (who signed it) the number of subscribers could have been ten times larger if they had waited for a while longer, since people joined in after the letter was sent. So full many a Maiani is there, although of course he is one of the most brilliant.


1. Fred - January 18, 2008

For those of us who are clueless, could you give us a brief bio on Luciano Maiani and why you think he is not only brilliant but a wonderful choice to become head of the CRN (and what is the main purpose of CRN). Thanks.

2. Amara - January 18, 2008

I can answer the part about CNR. It is the best-known general scientific research network in Italy; one can make analogies to the CNRS network in France and the Max-Planck-Institute network in Germany. I was a CNR employee until Letizia Moratti’s reforms resulted in all of the CNR astronomers to be placed inside of INAF (national network of astrophysics observatories). Meanwhile, Moratti’s goals were for CNR’s research to be only ‘applied’, money-making research (not any more pure research), and there was a push for it to be audited by business auditing companies like Ernst and Young. You can see what she was trying to do, except that she didn’t appear to have any idea of how science actually works; how pure research spills into practical applications, naturally. I don’t know how far those CNR reforms have gone, now 2 years after I’ve left CNR (and also INAF, two months ago) and you know: “Tutto deve cambiare perchè nulla cambi”.

3. Tony Smith - January 18, 2008

Luciano Maiani is the “M” of the GIM mechanism.
Here are some excerpts from “The Second Creation” by Crease and Mann, some describing an interview with Luciano Maini in his office, University of Rome, 17 February 1984:
“… The atmosphere around the University of Rome had the stillness of shell shock; the days when tear gas and terrorism accompanies students to class remained in memory, and the gateway to the school on Piazzale Aldo Moro was flanked by sullen carabinieri. At the time, tanks had only recently stopped being part of campus life. The university was large, desolate, creakingly underfinanced; the theavy neoclassic buildings of the science wings were sprayed with political graffitti and surrounded by indifferently tended islands of grass. Luciano Maiani’s office was on the second floor, in the middle of a twist of dusty corridors. A graduate student guided us through, silent as Charon, turning imperturbably this way and that in the dim light.
Maiani was waiting for us, a cigarette burning in a sixteen-millimeter film canister that served as an ashtray. He had a large head, expressive dark blue eyes, and black hair that is swept back from a high forehead sticking out to the side like the cartoon image of an orchestra conductor. His voice is deep, penetrating, an unmistakable peninsular bass. “Want one of these>” he asked, pushing the cigarette box across the desk. They were MS, the state-owned brand. “MS, morte sicura,” he said. “They are disgusting.
Maiani’s family is from San Marino, the minute city-state in northern Italy. He was born, however, in Rome, and studied there as an experimenter. In the midst of writing a thesis on solid-state detectors, he decided to move to theory, and in particular the theory of weak interactions, a chain of work that started with Enrico Fermi, was interrupted by Mussolini, and reimported by Raoul Gatto from the United States. In 1963, Nicola Cabibbo, an Italian then at CERN, figured out a general formulation for hadronic weak decays. The strange particles, as usual, did not behave exactly like ordinary particles, and Cabibbo was obliged to introduce a parameter that, speaking crudely, related the probability the weak force would change the strangeness of a particle to the likelihood that it would not. This parameter became known as the “Cabibbo angle,” …
Five years later, Babibbo and Maiani decided that there should be some way to compute this angle, rather than simply letting experimenters find it. … In unknowing parallel to Iliopoulos, Bouchiat, and Prentki, hundreds of miles north in Geneva,
Cabibbo and Maiani had hit upon the notion that the divergences in some way tied the weak and strong interactions together. … [Maiani said] “… But this theory had a problem, which which we became aware of just in the summer of sixty-nine, while I was packing and moving to Harvard.” The problem was that a consequence of their ideas was the prediction taht a long-lived K meson should decay often and easily into two muons. It does not. Maiani arrived in Cambridge and was delighted to find Glashow and Iliiopoulos had similar interests – so similar, in fact, taht they immediately informed him that his ideas could not possibly be correct.
“We started discussing furiously,” Maiani said. “Becasue I was defending my work, and they were attacking it, there was a lot of discussion in which two people were attacking a third one.” He laughed. “I was a fool.”
… Nonetheless, Iliopoulos and Glashow liked the essential idea of computing the Cabibbo angle by getting rid of the divergences. …
After playing with leptons for a while, they … plugged in a fourth quark, which Glashow … called charm. … charm cancelled the possibility of neutral currents for strange particles …
Glashow, Maiani, and Maiani’s wife went to a Cambridge hangout with the curious name of Legal Sea Food. Over the meal, Glashow informed Maiani’s wife that he was extremely pleased with what has come to be known as the GIM mechanism for avoiding strangenss-changing neutral currents. She asked if it was important. Glashow replied, “It will be in the textbooks.” …
When Maiani decided to return to Italy after his wife became sick … They decided to have a farewell party. … At a certain point in the proceedings, in Maiani’s memory, Glashow, Iliopoulos, and he cornered MIT experimenter Sam Ting. They told him about charm and … why it was important. … Ting smiled skeptically …
[a few years pass]
… In … 1974 … Ting, Becker and Chen asked for more beam [at the Brookhaven AGS] … Rhoades and Becker … ran … the 2-4 GeV data tapes … through the MIT computer … Nearly all the events were piled up at 3.1 GeV; instead of a hill, they were looking at a needle. No known subatomic object had such a narrow width. … Ting was enraged. … It was made known that he would be extremely angry at anyone who talked about 3.1 GeV outside the group. …
Glashow … was sure that …[it]… was a meson formed of a charmed quark and an anticharmed quark …”.

The Crease and Mann book has a lot more details, including Ting’s delays in announcing that allowed Richter and SLAC to share in the discovery (and the Nobel).

Tony Smith

4. Andrea Giammanco - January 18, 2008

Hi Fred, apart from the scientific merits (that I will not repeat, Tony already did a wonderful job) it is mostly because he has an impressive CV as manager of science: he was director of CERN, and had been director of INFN (the italian funding agency for nuclear physics), so when you think about an italian with experience in making large scientific agencies work, very few names come to your mind, and Maiani is one of the very few. (Another is Rubbia, but he is already busy.)

Of course, having a good manager of science who is also a well respected scientist is a bonus.

5. chimpanzee - January 18, 2008

Technical Research VS Non-Technical People [ Politicians, administrators ]

The above is always a source of friction/conflict. Non-technical people (Letizia Moratti, Pope, et al) surely will foul things up. As the saying goes, “Stupid is, as Stupid does”. You need administrators who are technically competent, e.g. Luciano Maiani.

“Wise men [ scientists ] argue causes [ advancing knowledge ], fools [ politicians, administrators, et al] decide them”
— Anacharsis

“I [ Anacharsis ] find it astonishing that here wise men [ scientists ] speak on public affairs, while fools [ politicians ] decide them”
— Plutarch, Solon 5

American Fiscal 2008 HEP crisis is perfect example.

“Suppose you were an idiot, suppose you were a Congressman..but I repeat myself”
— Mark Twain

Nothing has really changed from Greeks to 1800’s to now. The principle of Time Invariance, as applied to Fools VS Science.

Pulled this from my research notes on my computer:

From stephenwolfram.com
Oct 14, 1985

Dr. Stephen Wolfram
School of Natural Sciences
The Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton, NJ 08540

Dear Wolfram

1. It is not my opinion that the present organizational structure of science inhibits “complexity research” – I do not believe such an institution is necessary.

2. You say you want to create your own environment – but you will not be doing that: you will create (perhaps!) an environment that you might like to work in – but you will not be working in this environment – you will be administering it – and the administration environment is not what you seek – is it? You won’t enjoy administering people because you won’t succeed in it.

You don’t understand “ordinary people.”. To you they are ‘stupid fools’ – so you will not tolerate them or treat their foibles with tolerance or patience – but will drive yourself wild (or they will drive you wild) trying to deal them in an effective way.

Find a way to do your research with as little contact with non-technical people as possible, with one exception [ women..note the sexist intonation ], fall madly in love! That is my advice, my friend.

Richard P. Feynman

btw, my dad was on the search committee which lured SW from Princeton to UIUC (triple math/cs/physics appt). I still have the press-clippings he sent me from mid-80’s. As RPF predicted, SW’s mind was “too immense” to be contained by university infrastructure of UIUC (or Caltech), there was friction at both places. He left to start Wolfram Research (w/some UIUC math profs, & Theodore Gray..an alumnus of my high-school), & the rest is history. 1 of the math profs was Dan Grayson (mentioned on P. Woit’s blog), whose son is a physics grad-student @Caltech. We’ve had some contact Re: ANKOS (A New Kind of Science), the automaton model for TOE.

Moral of the Story:
“Curse of Infrastructure/Bureaucracy” sucks, just start your own independent research

G. Lisi (& me) are on this path, we share some eerily similar features (hang-gliding, Hawaii, Reno). It looks like Kea is doing something similar, & I have some interesting contacts (for funding) which could help her. B is at a hybrid institue (PI).

6. Vera - January 18, 2008

I’m afraid it’s always the same thing. One can’t express an opinion against the Church or the most important power figures as well without being in some way persecuted, even if one is an important scientist as Maiani. The problem is that other people, less important and well-known than him, get even more in trouble when they criticize the power, often risking their work or not being able to find one. This is really disgusting

7. Papst vergrault « DissBlog - January 18, 2008

[…] gefährdet. Und wohl leider auch zu Recht, wenn man die Reaktionen auf diesen Brief ansieht: laut Dorigos Blog muss mindestens einer der Unterzeichner des Vatikan-kritischen Briefs jetzt politische Konsequenzen […]

8. Fred - January 19, 2008

Thank you Amara, Tony, and Andrea. The reason I enjoy this blog is because I learn quite a bit here by those of you who share your wealth of knowledge with a number of us neophytes. A toast to you and your colleague, Mr. Tommaso. Prost!

9. goffredo - January 19, 2008

Hey guys
all the fuss about the Pope and no one is yelling that Maiani is maybe getting sacked? I am sickened that this has not made the news in this sick country of Italy! I am even annoyed this has not stirred much of a reaction on this blog.


p.s. One day I might go back and say whay I din’t like about Cini’s letter. I read it again and found out more about Cini political orientation. Ah the bug of Italy. People argue over issues not from a rational perspective but from a political one. Everyone is in “malafede” = apparenently good intentions but hypocrit, forked tongue, biased, intellectually lying,…

10. Amara - January 19, 2008

Jeff: I’m not there to see what is the Italian news (I distrust them anyway, as much as I distrust US news), but at least these news items were circulated in the last days among all of the internal discussion on the Area Tor Vergata Roma email.




Roma, 15 gen. (Adnkronos) – Angela Filipponio Tatarella, parlamentare di Alleanza Nazionale, ha presentato in Commissione cultura alla Camera dei Deputati una interrogazione a risposta immediata con la quale ”chiede al governo di bloccare immediatamente il procedimento di nomina del professore Luciano Maiani alla presidenza del Cnr, dal momento che il prof. Maiani e’ tra i 67 firmatari del documento sottoscritto anche da altri scienziati dell’Universita’ ‘la Sapienza’, in cui si definisce ‘sconcertante’ la visita di Benedetto XVI all’ateneo romano”.

Liberazione edizione del 17-01-08 pag5

E’ caccia alle streghe
Vittima il Prof Maiani
Senato, la Cdl blocca la nomina al Cnr per «la firma anti Papa» Oggi cortei alla Sapienza. Nuova tensione tra studenti e rettore Angela Mauro All’indomani della gara di solidarietà della politica al Pontefice dopo la rinuncia alla visita alla Sapienza, è caccia alle streghe. Con un nome e cognome: Luciano Maiani, docente di fisica teorica, studi ad Harvard negli anni ’70, firmatario insieme ad altri 66 colleghi della lettera al rettore, Renato Guarini, contro la visita papale in ateneo. E’ lui la prima vittima del clima venutosi a creare dopo le proteste annunciate da studenti e docenti per affermare il «carattere pubblico e laico dell’università». Lui, che ha anche tentato di fare il Galileo Galilei della situazione, ritrattando la sua posizione alcuni giorni fa sul Corriere della Sera («Se il Papa arriva in qualità di vescovo di Roma siamo felici»), non ci è riuscito. E sembra verrà punito ugualmente, visto che ieri sul suo nome si è scatenata una vera e propria battaglia in Commissione per l’Istruzione pubblica al Senato, di solito piuttosto pacata nei toni della discussione politica. Convocata per ratificare la nomina di Maiani a presidente del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (decisa dal consiglio dei ministri a dicembre), la Commissione ha rinviato la decisione per via degli attacchi del centrodestra, da due giorni impegnato (Buttiglione e centristi in prima fila) in una stoica crociata anti-Maiani, reo di essersi messo contro il Papa e dunque non meritevole della carica al Cnr. Nemmeno l’ombra di un clima bipartisan sulla nomina, dunque. Situazione che, hanno fatto notare i senatori del Pd in Commissione, non farebbe piacere nemmeno al diretto interessato. Quindi, il rinvio con l’intenzione di chiedere al ministro Fabio Mussi di spiegare i perchè della scelta di Maiani e di invitare in commissione anche lo stesso professore a pronunciare una sorta di “abjura”. Dissenso su tutta la linea è stato espresso da Rifondazione e Pdci. […]

11. Amara - January 19, 2008

P.S. About discussion, from my side I have nothing to say since I voted with my feet and left a permanent INAF job two months ago. Nothing I’ve read about Italy since then has convinced me that I made a bad decision.

12. goffredo - January 19, 2008

my sincere compliments. Brave, bold, and wise. You can always come back to Italy for vacation. I am too old, good health is abbondoning me and have a family else I’d do it too


13. a - January 19, 2008

furthermore Maiani is still producing great scientific works, like
http://arXiv.org/abs/0801.2288 one week ago. I don’t see how italian politicians could find a better director for CNR.

14. John Cowan - January 20, 2008

The “Feynman Sexist Pig!” canard raises its head again.

Feynman was obviously giving Wolfram the best advice he could, i.e. the best *for Wolfram*. We know that Feynman didn’t live his life that way, far from it; he is amply on record about needing contact with students and non-technicals to be able to work well and live a good life. If Feynman had said “Surround yourself with technical men”, *that* would have been sexist — but he didn’t.

As for falling in love, it’s good advice for anyone, if you can manage it.

15. Cynthia - January 21, 2008

Prof. Dorigo,

Don’t know about you, but I’ve recently come across a fair number of opinions claiming that Ratzinger actually opposed (rather than supported) the Feyerabend quote. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this…And if you can debunk these opinions, please do!

16. dorigo - January 21, 2008

Hi all,

I have little to add to the many interesting comments I read in this column, and will just answer Cynthia here for lack of time (presently very deeply into finalizing an analysis).
Cynthia, I read Cardinal Ratzinger’s discussion which included the Feyerabend quote, and I understand that some can argue it was a critical quote rather than a supportive one. However, the sense of Ratzinger’s creed is given by the politics he has carried forward as a Cardinal before, and now as a pope: a pope which divides, not one which unites. A pope which is very involved, through his cardinals (Ruini, Bagnasco), in secular matters, and in the shaping of a consensus around the way he thinks we should all live our lives. Because of that, it is hardly possible to give him the benefit of doubt with respect to his opinions on Galileo. Ratzinger is a reactionary pope. I hope he will get better with time, as happened with Wojtila, who – in the latter years of his pontificate – was an excellent pope.


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