Mauro Ferrari flounces across the pond in coronavirus research row

European Research Council president Mauro Ferrari, whose tenure amounted to just three months, has quit in a blaze of PR glory. Ferrari’s academic and commercial commitments had of late seen him based in the US for the most part, and this is part of the reason why the ERC’s governing body had quietly and unanimously asked him to consider his position.

I think it safe to say that Ferrari will not be missed within the European research community. He singularly failed to appreciate the ERC’s ethos, with its focus on practical support for blue-sky R&D rather than top-down funding of large-scale strategic programmes such as the search for a coronavirus vaccine. There are other avenues within the EU’s research directorate for engaging in the latter, as explained by the ERC itself in its reaction to Ferrari’s resignation. The ERC supports creative individual scientists; it is not project-oriented.

Ferrari’s flounce has been jumped on by the anti-EU brigade, who driven by ideological fervour claim that the EU is a bureaucratic monster incapable of innovation. Whilst certain EU structures can be cumbersome in their operation, the truth in this case at least is that Ferrari was looking to unilaterally rewrite the ERC’s constitution, and turn the council into a champion of centrally-directed big science. If Ferrari thinks this approach will go down better in the US, he may be in for a shock.

What particularly disappoints me is the shallow reporting of the Ferrari row by serious news outlets that should know better. In sharp contrast to such pisspoor coverage, Katya Adler’s BBC News story is both well-researched and informative.