Monday, May 19, 2014

Acceptance speech given by Andrea Rinaldo for his Doctoral Degree Honoris Causa

Andrea Rinaldo was awarded last Thursday, May 8th, of a Ph.D.  honoris causa From Québec University under the auspices of the INRS. As one of his former students, now colleague and friend, I was invited to participate at the ceremony held at S. Servolo Island in Venice. Beautiful day indeed, preceded and followed by a workshop in which, we, the group of friends talked freely about our research.
Andrea started with his talk on spreading of diseases, very similar to the one you can find here

In his speech  professor Rinaldo distilled many of his beliefs about academy, research and their role in society. Please find here the transcript of the speech

My selection among my favorite statements:
About our mission:
-“Indeed learned Institutions (among which I count Universities, research Institutes and Academies) can and should do something to counteract the short-sighted, short-term attitude that permeates today’s society. We can because we are not in charge of today’s economy and science, but rather of the economy and the science 20 years from now. This is so because the people we educate will create the economics and scientific research of the future.”

About Nature and Engineering:
“ … The hydrologist knows that the very idea of conservation becomes meaningless if not misleading in such cases. Mankind, in such fragile and unstable environments, should design the desired ecosystem services (physical, biological, cultural, strategic to name a few) and engineer them, unregretfully and wholeheartedly (as was demanded to the Serenissima Repubblica, say, through the diversion of five major freshwater tributaries of the lagoon through almost the entire course of history)… “

Citing Mandelbrot:
«clouds are not spheres, mountains are no cones (…) coastlines are not circles nor does lightning travel in a straight line».

Citing Kantorowicz: (also in the speech given by Rodriguez-Iturbe when granted of the Laurea honoris causa at University of Genova, years ago):
“We are not university employees subject to usual job discipline – to be a professor is to be of a different calling. In Kantorowicz’s own words: «There are three professions which are entitled to wear the gown: the judge, the priest and the professor. This garment stands for its bearer’s maturity of mind, his independence of judgement, and his direct responsibility to his conscience and his god.»  This is because we are the University.”

On  pursuing the good:
“The Swiss system, on the contrary, is based on trust – one that if breached calls for the system to react vehemently, and yet sees reward as the logical consequence of the work, appreciates success as the sign of the work behind it without treating it with suspicion and despise.  It is a system made to trigger positive feedbacks from visionary policy.”

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