In a surprising turnaround, founder of Italy's ruling Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, signed a "pact for science" aimed at curbing the distortion of medical and scientific facts for political gain.
Grillo, also a comedian and actor, has previously backed pseudoscientific methods and members of his party have often campaigned against vaccines.
The Transversal Pact for Science was launched by famous virologist Roberto Burioni — Italy’s most vocal campaigner in favour of vaccines — and immunologist Guido Silvestri on Burioni’s website MedicalFacts.
It was also signed by Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, as well as dozens of doctors and professors.
“We appeal to all Italian political forces to sign the Transversal Pact for Science and formally commit to respecting it, recognizing that the progress of science is a universal value of humanity that cannot be denied or distorted to political or electoral ends,” the Pact read.
It also calls for political forces not to support or tolerate pseudoscience “that jeopardizes public health, such as the denial of AIDS, anti-vaccination stances and therapies not based on scientific evidence.”
The pact comes as Italy saw a record number of measles cases in 2018 — 2,295 in the first nine months of the year, according to the National Infectious Diseases Department.
A debate surrounding a rule that would mean children had to be vaccinated for them to be allowed into public schools has been raging since the Five Star Movement came into power in June 2018. Until now, Burioni and Grillo had been on opposing sides.
Now, Grillo is being accused of hypocrisy by his detractors and of treason by Five Star Movement voters for a post he published on his blog openly backing the pact for science.
“One cannot believe in science: either one understands or one does not understand,” he wrote, before echoing the pact saying: “The progress of science must be recognized as a universal value of humanity and cannot be denied or distorted for political and or electoral ends.”
“Beppe Grillo spent 30 years feeding conspiracy theorists. Literally up to 2 weeks ago he proposed to make pills at home ourselves with 3D printers. By signing this, he tries to erase what he did, as he has done before, by removing his anti-scientific content from the web,” a left-wing neurophysiologist commented.
“You’re just another court jester bending to those in power,” another social media user wrote, echoing dozens of disappointed Five Star supporters who accused him of bowing to lobbies and betraying the anti-vaccine cause.
But Grillo received praise from the Italian branch of UNICEF and the United Nations Emergency Fund for Children called the pact: “An appeal that deserves all our appreciation: the health of the children and adolescents of our country need a policy that bases its decisions on health matters, on scientific evidence, and research more than ever.”
In an interview with The Cube, professor Burioni admitted that Grillo's political faction has not been firmly in favor of the scientific method in the past, but that his recent strong pro-science stance is even more important because of this.
Burioni said he hopes and expects that Lega and Five Star Movement leaders Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio will also sign his Pact for Science.
"It would be a success if the discussion regarding science - that, in a free country, has to be free - would not completely ignore scientific facts", he added.
Watch The Cube video here: