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Italy Part of U.S.-Led Coalition Fighting ISIS; When Science Is Up for Debate; Imagine a World

Aired February 24, 2015 - 14:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Italy on alert against ISIS, buckling under a massive migrant influx and struggling to head off a wider

war in Europe. All that and more tonight with my guest, the Italian foreign minister.

Also ahead one giant leap for mankind but to this day some still insist that the moon landing was all a hoax.

Why do reasonable people doubt science? And what are the consequences?


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Italy is at the forefront of multiple crises in Europe right now: Russia's war with Ukraine, the debt crisis in Greece and the danger posed by

militant extremists. Just last week, ISIS made the extraordinary threat to, quote, "conquer Rome." That was met with much mockery in Italy but the

government is taking it seriously enough to deploy some 4,800 troops to protect symbolic sites across the nation.

The fear is that militants could enter the country amongst the thousands of refugees who are trying to make their way across the Mediterranean. And

that number has surged in recent weeks as many flee Libya's chaos in search of safety in Italy, they hope, 7,000 this year alone.

Last week ISIS stepped up the fear and the threat by brutally executing 21 Egyptian workers on Libya's Mediterranean coast, prompting Italy to say it

is ready to fight back.

My guest tonight: Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni. He joins me live from Rome.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, welcome to the program and good evening to you. You did say just a few days ago that time is running out for the

international community to come up with some kind of real and robust response to the threat from ISIS.

PAOLO GENTILONI, ITALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, because we are putting pressure on the international community and also on Europe because we

believe that what is happening in Libya should be at the top of the international and European agenda.

So in these days, the United Nations envoy is trying again to put the different sections at the table and to reach an agreement. This agreement

would be obviously the main way to find a solution, to send their aid and monitoring and some force.


GENTILONI: But if the agreement will not be possible, I think we have to understand what we can do at international level.

AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to ask you because we obviously have a map here and ISIS and militants have taken Derna, which is a city on the Libyan

coast, only about 400 miles away from your coast. And your defense minister said there is an imminent threat of some of these militants,

terrorists, possibly coming over in these massive migrant boats that are trying to come over to you.

What can you do about this?

GENTILONI: Well, in fact, we don't have until now evidence of the fact that there are terrorists infiltrating migrants, but obviously our

intelligence and our security forces are well aware that they have to control and to strengthen their controls.

We have -- we had last year 170,000 migrants which is the vast majority of the irregular migration towards Europe and 90 percent of them are coming

through Libya. They are not Libyan obviously; they are coming from Syria, from the horn of Africa, from Central Africa, from the area of crisis. But

they are passing through an open door, which is Libya. So the stabilization of Libya is absolutely strategical (sic). We have to control

the migration phenomenon but we have not to mix migration and terrorism. It will be a great mistake.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me first ask you then about the threat of these boats, not just to you but to the people who are on these boats; many of them are

dying. I spoke to the director general of the International Organization for Migration who spoke to me -- and I'll play a little clip of his

interview -- reminding us all that when the Somali piracy crisis was at its height, the world stepped in and stopped it. Listen to this.


WILLIAM SWING, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IOM: This was a disruption of international trade and they've put together an international task force

and there is no longer any piracy on the Somali coast. Now surely if you can do that there, you can put together a task force that could go after

these smuggling gangs.


AMANPOUR: So Foreign Minister, why not a proper task force to go after these smuggling gangs, not just to try to rescue those poor who've been

left adrift in the Mediterranean, but to actually go after and stop them like happened off the Somali coast?

GENTILONI: Well, I think that what Italy is suggesting is to do both things. From one side, we have to multiply our effort in monitoring and

also in rescuing those poor people that are trying to reach Europe. We cannot stay there and look the situation without intervention.

We are very, very worried of the dramas that we saw, but also we are proud of the fact that the Italian navy saved tens of thousands of lives last

year. And we ask Europe to consider this fact, the migration from Libya, not as an Italian problem but as a European problem.


GENTILONI: People are arriving in Italian coast; there are diffusing themselves all over Europe. So we need more European commitment on one

side and on the other side, as we were saying, we have to strengthen our fight against the criminal organization that are now 10 percent of Libyan

GDP. These smugglers are really strong organization that we must side against.

AMANPOUR: Now about these poor people who are literally perishing in their thousands in waters off your coast, are you saying that Europe needs to do

more to help you? Because let's face it, the Italian navy had a pretty successful operation, Mare Nostrum. You saved many, many people and now

you've scaled back with this new thing, Triton, which only operates 30 miles off your coast and many, many people are perishing.

Is Europe, as some have suggested, resigned to letting these people just die out there now on the high seas?

GENTILONI: I think Europe will not and cannot resign to this. We are -- we asked new European intervention, new European financing; something

arrived from Brussels a week ago. And we will have, at the beginning of March a meeting of European Union for establishing what we call the

migration agenda.

The issue is very simple. Europe is an economical superpower; an economical superpower cannot accept the idea to have no money for this

kind of intervention. So we need more money, more navy committed to search and rescue and obviously more strength in struggling against smuggler and

criminal organizations.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, talking about money and the economy, can you tell me has the Eurozone now backed the Greek reforms that they have

presented to you all in order to get past this bailout crisis?

GENTILONI: Yes, perhaps it's a little bit soon to have a conclusive idea. But my impression is that from both sides, European Union, Brussels and

Athens, Greece, a principle of flexibility is going on and we are perhaps in the right direction, which is, from our point of view, the direction of

a European policy towards growth, investment, jobs, the quantitative easing from the European Central Bank.

In a certain way the Greek issue can help to go in this direction.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play you this little piece of an interview I did with Finance Minister Varoufakis last night about this issue. And I want

to ask and get your reaction to it.


YANIS VAROUFAKIS, GREEK FINANCE MINISTER: . we decided that this autopilot austerity is finished and that we, the new freshly elected government, are

going to be given an opportunity to script a new package of reforms and suggestions regarding how to reform our structural economy, our state and

on questions of fiscal adjustment, which is exactly what we're doing.


AMANPOUR: So he's saying that Greece now has taken and shaped its own destiny; you in Italy have a lot of struggles with the economy, with

austerity and quite a lot of stagnation in the fourth quarter of last year.

Do you think the Greek example is something Italy would follow?

Will you just decide to rewrite your own austerity rules as well?

GENTILONI: No. Frankly speaking, I think that the Greek issue could help what we are trying to do, we Italians, the French and other governments,

which is not to break European rules but to push Europe to a new approach. We cannot only have an approach of austerity in Europe. We have to

struggle for growth, investment and jobs.

And the Greek issue will not be an issue of canceling or renegotiating the debt but of modifying the conviction of our cooperation and this could help

what Italy, France and the other countries are struggling for in Europe.

AMANPOUR: And finally, Foreign Minister, the much-vaunted cease-fire over Ukraine seems not to be holding very, very well; the heavy weapons are

still not being pulled back.

What are your thoughts about that?

Do you think it's going to unravel?

And what more can be done to persuade President Putin to back this cease- fire?

GENTILONI: Well, the cease-fire is obviously very fragile. But it's the only one we have. So I think that in this moment we have to keep pressure

on all the parts and especially on Russia. Our prime minister will be visiting Kiev and Moscow in the next days. The issues is to keep the unity

of NATO and of European Union to confirm for the moment sanctions and to be ready to a dialogue and a deescalation if the cease-fire will keep and if

Russia will change its mind.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, thank you for joining me on quite a windy evening in Rome. Thank you so much.


AMANPOUR: And among other things, the war against ISIS is a struggle against ignorance and intolerance and next we turn to that same struggle,

but in a very different arena -- science. "National Geographic" is asking why do many reasonable people doubt science? We'll find out after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

So why do many people doubt science? That's the provocative question that's posed this month by "National Geographic." But it's not only the

moon landing, that most famous of supposed hoaxes, but it's vaccines and climate change and evolution.

We live in an era when many people believe facts are actually up for grabs.


SEN. JIM INHOFE (R): The climate is changing and climate has always changed and it always will. There's archeological evidence of that.

There's Biblical evidence of that. The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful they can change

climates. Man can't change climates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you believe in it? Do you accept it?

SCOTT WALKER (R), GOVERNOR OF WISCONSIN: For me, I'm going to punt on that one as well --


WALKER: That's a question a politician shouldn't be involved in one way or the other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am more willing to take the chance over getting one of the rare viruses or diseases than give her any side effects of the

vaccine. A lot of the times (INAUDIBLE).


AMANPOUR: Now scientists might think all of those responses are quite alarming. Joining me now on the set here in London is Simon Singh. He's a

science writer and he's a founder of a charity that promotes science and challenges irrationality.


AMANPOUR: Thank you for being here.

So you heard all of those. It's an American senator doubting that man has anything to do with climate change. It's a potential presidential

candidate, the current governor of Wisconsin, not wanting to say whether he believes in evolution or not.

And then, of course, the disaster over vaccines.

In a nutshell, does this surprise you that this level of person would doubt facts?

SIMON SINGH, SCIENCE WRITER AND CAMPAIGNER: It does, because I've believed for thousands of years we've had to rely on common sense. And common sense

can be very misleading. And right now it seems as though the Earth isn't moving. And yet we're moving at several hundred kilometers an hour.

And it takes science and careful observation and experiments and theory to come to conclusions that really counter our common sense. So it's kind of

weird that putting bits of viruses in our body might protect us from disease.

So we have to overcome these common sense gut instincts we have. Now I would expect politicians to go beyond their common sense, to go beyond

their political biases, to go beyond their political prejudices or the last lobbying group that pressurized them.

I expect them to go to the scientific community and to get the best available evidence that there is. And certainly in the U.K. there's a

movement towards what we might call evidence-based policy. It's a slow movement but I think politicians are gradually seeing that if they go to

implement a policy, then they need to have the evidence to back up that policy and if they don't have the evidence, then the policy should

accumulate evidence to see whether that policy is right or wrong or whether it needs to be tweaked.

AMANPOUR: So you talked about the United States and here in Britain, in Europe. I mean, there is a graphic that we have that shows only 60 percent

of Americans say that humans and other living things have evolved over time. OK. We can ask you how is that possible; you pretty much explained


But right here in Britain it was "The Lancet." It was a doctor here that started the fear of MMR, the mumps-measles-rubella vaccine.

Even here it's something that's sort of galvanized.

SINGH: Yes, I mean, evolution just briefly on that, there we bring in the whole issue of religion, which is another whole other gut instinct that

people just can't move away from if they have a deep religious belief. And no amount of science is going to overcome that.

From the issue of vaccination and MMR, scientists sometimes get things wrong. In this case, a doctor got it more than just wrong. Sometimes

journals publish things which aren't necessarily true. And that's part of the scientific process. Scientists put out all sorts of ideas. And by

replication, by independent study, by our scientists arguing with each other, they get closer to the truth.

I think the problem with vaccination is, I'm afraid to say, the media. The media likes an argument. It likes to scaremonger. It likes to

sensationalize. It likes to have a great debate. So you need to have two sides to an argument. So when the overwhelming scientific and medical

opinion says that vaccination such as MMR is a good thing for society, that's not good enough for the media, I'm afraid.

We have to have a lobby group or a parents' group or a minority person who's going to put the other side of the view, which then confuses the


AMANPOUR: But then let me ask you this, because some of these suggestions and certainly "National Geographic" has said that perhaps the scientists

should get out of their ivory towers and interact more with the media and more with these people who are peddling these fallacies really.

SINGH: I think there are more scientists speaking up now than ever before. That's a good thing and we should encourage it. But we have more media

than ever before. We have 24-hour rolling news and CNN does a pretty good job but there are other networks that do an appalling job.

And that's the real problem. And also people can then go online and search for things. And what people will often tend to do is they have a gut

instinct; they'll have a prejudice and they'll search for the stories that reinforce that belief. They may have a belief that natural is good and

manmade is bad; therefore, vaccinations are bad but natural therapies are good.

AMANPOUR: So let's ask for the -- let's talk about the consequences then, because it's one thing to believe these things; what is the consequence?

We've just seen this measles outbreak in the United States. We had the MMR scare over the last more than a decade here and around the world.

What is the danger of these kinds of false beliefs?

SINGH: It works at very different levels. On an individual level, it's a parent deciding not to vaccinate their child and perhaps breaking down the

herd immunity in a society and disease outbreaks, as we've seen in California.

At the other end of the scale, with climate change, (INAUDIBLE). These things are going to affect not just us but our children and our

grandchildren. And the politicians really need to make the right decisions.

In Britain now, every department has a chief scientific adviser. So the politicians really should be getting the best available information. You

mentioned Europe very, very briefly. I think there was a chief scientific adviser, Ann Glover, Professor Ann Glover, to the E.U. But President

Juncker abandoned that position. So we no longer have that person influencing policy in Europe.

AMANPOUR: Which is pretty dangerous. Of course, Europe is more willing to believe the science in general, specifically on this issue like climate

change. I want to ask you about something even more nefarious than just beliefs and religion and this and that.

There's a big front-page article in "The New York Times" this week that basically says one of the key scientific skeptics was in the pay of a

fossil fuel company.

SINGH: Right. By a scientific skeptic, you mean --

AMANPOUR: Sorry; climate change skeptic.


AMANPOUR: And they're advising others on the skepticism of manmade climate change.

SINGH: That's right. (INAUDIBLE) because skepticism is always a good thing and we should always ask questions.

AMANPOUR: Denier, then.

SINGH: Well, I would love you to use that word but I think to a large extent maybe these people are deniers. I like to use the word numpties,

which doesn't have such a loaded label to it.

But yes, these are the kind of things that will come up bit by bit but ultimately we have to look at the evidence. What does the best available

evidence tell us? Let's not try and besmirch people necessarily, but let's look at the best available evidence and come to the best available


AMANPOUR: It's a matter of life and death, certainly for our planet.

SINGH: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: Simon Singh, thank you very much indeed for joining me.


AMANPOUR: And the never-ending scientific quest for truth may now be absolving one of history's great villains: the black rat. Everyone knows

those rodents spread the plague and the Black Death that ravaged Europe centuries ago -- or did they? Science riding to the rescue of the rat's

reputation -- that's next.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where a much maligned rodent finds a reprieve. The rat has had a bad rap over the centuries; by

far, its most deadly offense, spreading the Black Death across the world in the 14th century, killing 75 million people.

The disease wiped out a third of Europe's population and as much as 60 percent of the people here in Great Britain, leaving a body count so

massive that they are still being recovered as London digs up its past even today.

Over the centuries, the plague killed millions more with repeated breakouts. Rats have been blamed as the infamous vermin that carried the

deadly fleas that leapt onto humans, giving them the disease and spreading the epidemic.

But it seems that rats have been the victims of one of history's biggest framings and by fellow rodents no less -- the gerbil. Science is now

outing the truth through the trees. A team from the University of Oslo has been analyzing the plague period through tree rings and it's discovered the

weather didn't favor rats at the time, but gerbils. They are now believed to be the creatures that spread the plague along the Silk Road trade route

from Asia to the docks of Europe's biggest cities. Of course, it's all still an educated theory and the scientists will next study ancient bones

of human victims in order to find further proof and perhaps rewrite the history books.

That is it for our program tonight. And remember you can always see the whole show online at, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.