Total Report on Undernourished Science Sector

First came the cutbacks in the budget devoted to research now comes a further cutback in staff. In an article published in Nature magazine the secretary of state for research, Carmen Vela, has defended the need to reduce the number of researchers, alleging that in the present circumstances of economic crisis, quality has to take priority over quantity.

To this end, she proposes to reduce the number of contracts for programs of high scientific excellence such as the Ramón y Cajal; diminish the number of postdoctoral research posts; and cut back on technical support services. And all this with the objective, according to Vela, of “strengthening our research system.”

About Total Report on Undernourished Science Sector

The Popular Party (PP) government has already resorted a number of times to the fallacy of presenting a cutback or a regressive step in terms of an improvement or advance. But in this case the secretary of state’s impertinent language, in speaking of slimming down the Spanish research establishment to make it more competitive (as if clearing away useless deadwood), is particularly irritating and does not stand up to serious scrutiny.

Of course scientific excellence has to come before other considerations. Of course priority has to be given to the most competitive programs. This has to be done in any case, crisis or no crisis. But the argument of efficiency cannot be used as an excuse to justify a reduction of the human resources devoted to research, and far less to suggest that this reduction is going to constitute an improvement. There is no evidence at all to indicate that, with less human and technical resources in play, there is going to be better scientific research. Quite the contrary, in fact.

To reduce quantity means, in our case, to reduce the critical mass necessary in order to have some chance of competing. The 25-percent cutback in the research budget for 2012 puts our country back at the investment levels of 2005.

If the announced reduction in contracts and research posts also takes place, this backward move will throw overboard the cumulative effort made in the years previous to the crisis, sweeping away the expectations of a whole generation of well-trained research personnel, who will have no place in which to exercise their profession.

When budget cutbacks have been coming one after the other for three years now, and precariousness is still the rule in the world of scientific research posts in Spain, to point to the need for will and determination, as Vela does in a paraphrase of Einstein, sounds like a bitter joke. Many of our scientific research teams will now cease to be competitive, and will see the effort they have made in recent years go up in smoke. When you miss the train it doesn’t pass again, and it is now going to be harder and harder to catch up with the speed of those who are well ahead of us.