Posted on behalf of Michele Catanzaro.
Researchers gathered in more than a dozen Spanish cities this morning to protest against drastic cuts to the country’s science budget. The demonstrations were organized by the Open Letter for Science group, a platform uniting the main scientific organizations in the country, including scientific societies, unions, university rectors and researchers’ associations.
In Madrid, the protesters met at the Campus of Complutense University and lofted dozens of balloons in to the air — supposedly a symbol of brains draining away from the country. With the same message in mind, scientists with suitcases queued in front of the train station in Valencia. Organizations of Spanish scientists working abroad gave support to the demonstrations from the United Kingdom and Germany.
The protesters read in public a joint document called ‘With R&D [research and development], we do have future’. The document asks for “a U-turn in the government’s science policy” and calls “all society to stop the dismantling of the research and development system”. If this policy does not change, “the damage … will be irreparable, destroying what has been built in decades of efforts, leaving thousands of young scientists without jobs … and seriously affecting the development of Spanish economy”, says the text. Representatives of Open Letter for Science delivered the document to the president of the government’s office in Madrid.
After a decade in which investments had more than doubled, the state’s budget for science has dropped by 39% since 2009 in Spain, going back to 2005 levels. The total amount of people working in R&D fell by 3.1% in 2011, according to the latest data from the National Institute of Statistics. The National Research Council experienced a liquidity crisis last July, and is now grappling with a deficit of €100 million (US$132 million). The Confederation of Spanish University Rectors issued a statement on the effects of budget cuts on universities on 10 December, the last of a series of open letters and declarations from scientific groups.
“Today, all the organizations representing science in Spain have joined to give the same message: without science, there is no future,” says Salce Elvira Gomez, secretary of research and development at the largest Spanish union, Comisiones Obreras. “In the past few years, we have tried to have a dialogue with politicians, but the government has not fulfilled its promise to have science as a priority,” says José Manuel Fernández, a postdoctoral researcher in agriculture and spokesperson for the Federation of Young Researchers. “So now we address the citizens directly: are they disposed to be disconnected from science?”