Turning Spain’s Budget Crisis into a Lasting Crisis of Opportunities

The Nature article of Spain’s secretary for research, development and innovation, Carmen Vela, provided an official response to the country’s current climate of severe research funding shortages. I have written a short answer to the article, published this week in the same journal.

Mrs Vela suggests that a way to strengthen the Spanish research system could be to slim it down to make it more competitive. Although it is true that the management of public resources has not been completely effective, improved management does not necessarily follow from ‘slimming’ the research budget, even if the little money left is better spent. Having a 22.5% decrease in funds will not make the science left more competitive, even if there is less of it: 1) Returns in science investments are not predictable. Funding only the most excellent projects will inevitably leave out high-risk projects. 2) Shrinking funds will make many would-be scientists either leave the country or choose other careers, as there will be no money to fund them. 3) All the investment spent during the years of bonanza will have served no purpose. The current budget crisis in the Spanish economy certainly may bring opportunities for some sectors but the argument that generalized budget cuts for research can make scientific output more competitive does not seem reasonable. Proposed funding cuts in scientific research and innovation will unnecessarily extend the current lack of opportunities for the economy as a whole. Creating an environment that is conducive to research and innovation requires a long sustained effort from the political class irrespective of economic cycles.

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