Repeated research protests on the streets of Madrid

Doing science in Spain is like crying. This well-known quote from one of the most famous Spanish scientist, Nobel laureate Santiago Ramón Cajal, seems more pertinent today than ever. For that reason, Spanish scientists took to the streets of Madrid on 26th September 2014, in a protest dubbed the Red Tide for Science—Marea Roja por la Ciencia. These protests reflect the sense of hopelessness, which pervades research centres and universities around the country, as scientists are leaving in droves. Another demonstration is scheduled in Madrid on the 17th October 2014 to coinciding with the arrival in Paris of the French movement Science en Marche. and the protest in Rome, Per la Scienza, Per la cultura the next day.

In the most recent demonstration, protestors were dressed in red T-shirts white coats and held big placards aimed at the government saying “there is no future without Science” or “Spain is not a country for scientists.” The main actors included researchers of all ages and from very diverse institutions such as universities, public and private research centres, trade unions and scientific societies. In fact, this series of protests is backed by several activists groups of researchers including Investignación Digna, along with the Federation of Young Investigators (FJIP), Science for the People (Ciencia para el pueblo), Asemblea General de Ciencia, and the two major trade unions, CCOO and UGT, among others.

Unified voice

The researchers’ priorities are clear. “Foremost, we need urgent measures to stop and reverse the brain drain, including the abolition of current restrictions on hiring in public research centres and universities, the adoption on an anti-cyclical investment policy, a commitment to funding stability and strong support for basic research,” says Investignación Digna’s spokesperson Amaya Moro-Martín, who is currently doing research on extra-solar planetary systems at the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, Maryland , USA. But she harbours the hope of, one day, going back to Spain.

All protestors advocate that R&D is key to achieving a healthy productive model and that public investment attracts private funding. “Without sustained R&D investment we will not achieve economic growth and generate employment,” says Capitolina Díaz, president of the Association of Women Researcher and Technologists (AMIT) and a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Valencia, Spain. She believes that this is what this science researcher’s movement, made up of researchers of all ages with different ideologies and political affiliations, tries to demonstrate.

Chopped budget

In the past 5 years, the Spanish public investment in R&D has fallen by nearly 40%. To reverse the damage done, scientists repeatedly demand that research spending be brought back to the 2009 level of 0.6% of GDP – the average in Europe and fight against the dismantling of the national R&D system.

However, the 2014 public investment increase was only of 3.6% according to a 2014 report by COSCE. “Not only is budget [sparse], but credits are also rarely given out,” says José Molero, senior lecturer in applied economics at the Complutense University of Madrid and one of the authors of this report. “In 2011 and 2012, for example, 40% of the credit money included in the public budget was not allocated, mainly because research centres and companies could not meet the terms, such as high interest rates, among others,” Molero notes.

The draft state budget for 2015 announced this week by the ministry of Finance foresees a global increase of 4,24%, but the majority of this increase (64.3%) will go for military research and the total amount of the non-financial budget for civil R&D will decrease 7 Millions, a 0.29%, according to the first analysis reported by COSCE last Thursday. Molero believes that “we need at least six years of a sustained two digit increase to get back to the 2009 position.” Carlos Andradas, president of the COSCE (Spanish Confederation of Scientific Societies), said during the presentation of this 2015 report that “this is a very disappointing budget project, taking into account that it has been presented as the one that represent our way out of the economic crisis”.

Human cost

Not only have research budgets been cut, but the brain drain is perceived as a waste of the money already invested in educating Spanish scientists, which is not benefiting the country. “They [the Spanish government] help us to get a grant to move abroad but then it is really difficult to go back and get a contract in research,” laments Salvador Macip , a Spanish medicine graduate from the University of Barcelona, who is senior lecturer in Biochemistry and cancer research expert at the University of Leicester, UK, since 2008. He adds: “all the money invested in my training is wasted and my production as a scientist stays abroad.”

The crux of the matter is that there is little career prospect for Spanish scientists wishing to return home, let alone for those still in the country. “We reached our first goal: the last reform of the Spanish Science Law [of 2011] foresees that all training researchers should have a contract,” explains Elena Capel, the spokesperson for the Federation of Young Investigators, “but, in reality, with a replacement rate lower than 10% and the drastic cuts that most research projects endure, having a career in Spain is almost impossible,” says Capel, who is a post-doctoral researcher at the Institut Necker Enfants Malades in Paris, France. “It is not mobility any more, it is emigration,” adds Capel.

Political apathy

Another key issue is that science is nowhere to be seen in the political, economic or social agenda. And the new political movements, such as the new citizen political party Podemos, are not yet fully organised to offer a fully formed research and innovation policy.

The issue is not new in Spain. “In the 80’s it seemed that science had finally started to feature on the political agenda, overcoming the financial crisis in the 90’s and surviving until the beginning of this century,” says Jesús Sebastián Audina, a science policy expert who was vice-president of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) from 1983 to 1988. However, with the financial crisis, in 2007, the CSIC offered 250 posts a year; in 2014 it offered just 32.

Others experts concur. “Historically, there has been no political, economic or social power that has seriously supported science,” says Emilio Muñoz, philosopher and historian of science, “and although we had some sort of Silver Age at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, and later from the 1980’s to the beginning of the twenty-first century, we in essence have a country without a strategy regarding scientific research, and if we do not learn from our mistakes we will carry on being limited to construction and tourism.”

Rather than a State Deal for Science Muñoz pledges for “a Social Deal for Science”, because scientists “usually demonstrate alone and need to participate in wider social movements”.

Marta Espar

Marta is a freelance science journalist based in Girona, Spain.

Featured image credit: Ciencia para el pueblo

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3 thoughts on “Repeated research protests on the streets of Madrid”

  1. Thank you very much for your comment.

    Thanks as well for your suggestion, we have changed the hyperlink related to Marea Roja de la Ciencia on the text, so that readers can see all the organisations supporting it and removed the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE), the Conference of Spanish University Chancellors (CRUE), from the list…

    Marta Espar