Spanish science has been mired in a crisis that seems to have no end for more than a decade. The public research system has lost more than 20 billion euros since 2009. Although the economic recovery came years ago, laboratories have barely felt the improvements. Public investment in science is stagnant at levels similar to 2012, largely due to political instability and the inability to approve new budgets.
In all this darkness, the scientific community was fulfilled in summer 2018 one of its historical claims with the appointment of Pedro Duque at the head of a ministry that linked the competences of science, innovation and universities, three areas that it considers inseparable. The new government that Pedro Sánchez profiles now starts this conquest to create a Ministry of Universities assigned to the sociologist Manuel Castells, a decision that has achieved a unanimous rejection of scientists, rectors and innovation leaders.
"These powers cannot be separated, doing so can cause a fight between these two ministries over already scarce resources", denounces the physics Perla Wahnón, president of the scientific societies of Spain (Cosce). "It is also a decision contrary to what we see in the main European powers, in the EU executive itself and that detracts from the political weight of science in the Council of Ministers," adds Wahnon. "It's bad news for Spain," the Cosce, the rectors of public universities, the scientific-medical associations and the Severo Ochoa centers and units, the elite of scientific research inSpain, sent in a joint statement last Friday.
The key is now in the detailed structure of the new government, which will define how many powers and budget the Duke's ministry loses in favor of Universities. "The separation of universities and science is not the most recommended model, but it is not something new either," explains Jorge Barrero, ceo of the Cotec Foundation. "These competitions have been separated for 14 of the last 20 years, first in the Aznar government, then in The Zapatero Government and since 2012 in Rajoy," he says. Of what is unprecedented is a separate ministry of universities of education and science, he adds, possibly because most university skills are transferred to the autonomous communities and there is very little left in the hands of the state.
In Spain around 70% of the scientific research is done by universities, but the state funding they receive for this depends on the National R&D&I Plan managed by the Ministry of Science and granted on the basis of a competitive competition, hence the misgivings of the research community to possible solomon divisions of these funds. "Breaking this unique bag to take some of this money to universities would be irresponsible," says Barrero, who sees it more feasible to give Castells a lifelong training ministry that manages Vocational Training, currently attached to Education, and the job training courses that depend on Labor.The challenges of the coming legislature
"Give me 700 million and I will tell you how many scientists can return to Spain", said Pedro Duque to THE COUNTRY in November 2018, four months after taking office. That was an impossible wish because the budget pact that the government of Pedro Sánchez and Podemos had barely contemplated raising the science budgets by 273 million euros. That pact never materialized and the budgets are still frozen and extended, but Duke can say that he fulfilled one of his main promises: to approve a package of urgent measures for science that ended the previous intervention, the bureaucratic hurdle that was suffocating public research centers to the extent that scientists could not even buy chairs.
In this new legislature, the main problem will be money again. In 2018, R&D investment rose by a timid 6% which is explained by increased private sector investment. Scientists are now calling for a public counterpart, but without going crazy. They don't even ask to get Spain to spend 2% of GDP on R&D&I, something that most parties have on their agenda, including Podemos, but which scientists and experts see totally unfeasible in the short span of four years.
"If this legislature were to double the budget of the National Plan, which is a total of about 350 million euros more, it would already be a great achievement", emphasizes Luis Serrano, president of Somma.
This program is bread and salt for the vast majority of scientists in Spain and especially nourishes the middle classes of research, those who do not have the resources or human capital to handle large projects, but that make up the critical mass of the public R&D&I system. This group faces two years of cuts of up to 20% in this legislature due to the new calendar of calls promoted by the Ministry of Duque and which has relieved the scientific community, especially cancer researchers grouped in the ASEICA association. "Our position is to wait and see," explains Xosé Bustelo, president of this organization. "The minister has so far spoken more than he has done. Let's hope that in this legislature the batteries will be put in place to solve the outstanding problems that our suffered R&D&I system has," he adds
"There is still almost everything to be done," says Pablo Jiménez, spokesman for the Federation of Young Researchers. "The R&D system is dismembered and needs a major injection of money," he says
Despite the anti-bureaucracy measures approved by Duque, there are still many present. One of them, explains Alvaro Rodríguez-Lescure, president of the Society of Medical Oncology, is that with current regulations cooperative groups such as research centers in network of cancer, cardiovascular or respiratory diseases, among others, are not "financeable tax subjects, which prevents them from going to calls for public funds", he emphasizes. "Another objective for Duque's new mandate should be to create a specific line-up for independent clinical trials that, because of their objectives, are not profitable for the pharmaceutical industry but can bring great benefits to patients and the biomedical community," he explains. These are, for example, studies designed to reuse already approved and patent-free drugs or make studies to prevent already cured cancer patients from having to go through the usual protocol and receive one year of additional treatment.
Another of the tasks of the Ministry of Science will be to find a solution for the so-called Cajal Legacy: 22,000 pieces — letters, drawings, manuscripts, photographs — of Santiago Ramón y Cajal that have been stored in boxes in boxes since 1989 in a basement of the Cajal Institute, a center of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) located in Madrid. The scientific community has been calling for years to create a Ramón y Cajal National Museum, consecrated to the winner of the 1906 Nobel Prize in Medicine, father of neuroscience,