A CALL FOR SCIENCE | MEXICO

Through the efforts of Mario Zurita et al., seven hundred colleagues based in Mexico, including me, have signed the following petition (translation is mine). The list of signatories can be downloaded here.

“We, the researchers signing this document, denounce the deplorable state of financial (and other) support scientific research receives in the country and the difficulties and shortcomings confronting scientists in Mexico. Our country faces multiple crises linked to corruption, impunity and the lack of equal opportunities. To revert this situation, we need amongst other things a high-quality educational project, supported by basic science and knowledge creation.

Scientific research is the most potent instrument of progress and development humanity has ever encountered. Thanks to research, fundamental laws that govern the universe have been explored and discovered, and multiple diseases have been outstripped, to mention examples. Application of knowledge acquired through basic research has produced benefits we take for granted, such as access to electricity, potable water and sanitation, vaccines, internet and transportation, amongst many others. The best manner in which a country can guarantee its social wellbeing and its economic and technological development is inverting in education and scientific research.

At this moment, the scientific community of our country finds itself in a crisis. This is a result in part because those responsible to obtain and distribute the necessary resources have little interest in scientific research, which they consider superfluous. Thus, in times of economic crisis, authorities find it simple to cut dedicated support to research. Such deliberate politics are not only explained due to the present budget limits, but also because it appears that the ultimate goal of the current national project is to maintain optimal conditions for a tiny elite to become wealthier at the peril of many. When an economic crisis unfolds, it may be necessary to reduce public financing, but it is important to preserve the future. In Mexico, historically there has always been an allocation of less than 1% of the GDP, when the standard in developed countries is a minimum of 2%. This situation is unacceptable as it condemns our country to regression and underdevelopment.

The social cost of the lack of investment in science is enormous: this omission results in the deterioration of scientific infrastructure which becomes obsolete. Likewise, long term research projects are detained or delayed, but also human and monetary investment becomes lost irreversibly; the cut of student fellowships for graduate study, previously evaluated and authorized by CONACyT puts at risk the academic formation and graduation of these students. These measures mean that the training of students depends entirely on resources obtained by their thesis directors, going against the purpose of training human resources at high level and send an infortunate message to future researchers.

Many inefficiencies and irregularities exist in the administration of the resources dedicated to research bringing us in a state of financial incertainty that stalls the progress of investigations and an excess of administrative tasks takes away time and effort from the scientists, who should be doing research and not administration and thus spoiling the advantages of their high-level qualifications and training. Furthermore, the times grant calls open and close are being constantly delayed impeding any planning and continuity of research projects. Finally, we are concerned that the processes of evaluation are inadequate to ensure fair judgments.

For the above reasons we call upon the authorities who are responsible for the advancement of science in Mexico to fulfill their duty towards society, by ensuring that in preparing next year’s budget, the Federal Government awards at least 1% of the GDP to research and guarantees that at least a third part of this award is dedicated to basic science, that it critically evaluates the process of distributing the funds and facilitates the utilization of the resources.”

The petition was published as an advertisment in the national press – el Universal – on the 27th of July 2017.

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3 thoughts on “A CALL FOR SCIENCE | MEXICO

  1. On Thursday 31st of August a meeting was convened by Guillermo Elizondo to coordinate actions in defense of basic science funding. A number of actions were decided, I will report as they materialise. One of our senior colleagues, Esther Orozco, wrote the following on her facebook page (again translation is mine)

    “From mid-twentieth century (without negating contributions by many scientists before), Mexican science received an important boost by founding institutions dedicated to research, amongst which Cinvestav (founded in 1961) stands out. To this date, our institution, according to international evaluations, is amongst the first in scientific production in Mexico and Latin America, a pilar for the generation of new investigators and a seed box in the vast majority of universities (public and private) of the highest standards research professors. It is, in addition, an international guarantor of scientific vigor. Undoubtedly, the scientists that are no longer with us and many that are now emeritus and arrived at the Cinvestav in its beginnings have constructed a vanguard institution for Mexican science. Presently, 92% of our 583 principal investigators are members of the SNI [National System of Investigators, where membership is based upon showing continuous research activity, primarily through publication and graduation of PhD students – FM] and is the 5th institution with most patents in the depressing overall panorama of Mexican patents.

    Contrary to other national institutions like the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and the IPN (National Polytechnic Institute), Cinvestav does not have a budget destined to support research projects. Almost all funds we use for research come from Conacyt (The National Research Council for Science and Technology). To receive these funds, it is important to present project proposals, which are evaluated by peer review. Such proposals include, of course, results that we deliver at the end of the grant. We present annual reports with the advances, which are also evaluated. It is important to include in these proposals the scientific foundations of the project, the strategy and methodology that will be employed, the articles published in international journals and the students (Masters and PhDs) trained during each project. The time invested in preparing such a proposal is not insignificant, and of course, much more is required to obtain the results. What is disappointing is Conacyt’s response to these efforts: many of us feel Conacyt shows little appreciation.

    Today, the science we do at the Cinvestav is in crisis. The majority of researchers do not have funds to work. The current administration has made enormous cuts on many of things we could count on in previous years. Contracts for assistant professors that had been recruited as key support to the more productive labs during former administrations have been suddenly slashed. Some investigators use the part of their salary that they receive as a stimulus from the SNI to buy consumables or to support young investigators that are without a position but have a passion for research. The graduate programs are under threat because there is no money in the labs and Conacyt is trying to reduce the number of fellowships it gives to students.

    Conacyt’s support for science has diminished at an alarming rate. The calls are less frequent. Researchers doubt whether it is worth submitting a proposal that has very high probability to get rejected, not because of its scientific quality, but for other reasons. Conacyt says it is because it lacks funds. We know however, how generously Conacyt has funded national and international businesses for innovation projects. We are not against this, but we would like to know the results of these projects. We would like – it is vital – that Conacyt understands the role that scientific research has for the development of technology and for innovation. There exists no technology nor innovation if there is no scientific research and quality education. Scientific research in Mexico suffers, its funding starved, and Cinvestav is one of the institutions that mostly regrets and senses the loss. To give an example, in the previous call called “Frontiers of Science” from more than 90 proposals submitted by researchers of the Cinvestav only 4 were supported.

    We feel frustrated viewing the government’s generocity with political parties. We feel indignation faced with politicians looting the public purse. We are suprised by the huge amounts of money destined to fight organized crime, while it keeps growing and growing. We feel frustrated and impontent by generalized impunity. We do not think the problem is the lack of money, we think the problem is how it is distributed. We feel the need is to construct a different society, but, sadly, we accept we do not know how to do so.

    Something I learned 20 years ago, and I thank the teacher who taught it to me, is not to knowingly hurt myself. It is better to understand the circumstances that lead to the situation we are living and act accordingly. How do we change them? How do we take advantage of them? Everyone together? Do we move forward for a better country? Is there someone who will lead this crusade without political ambitions to obtain posts or budgets, serving instead the high causes of the country?”

  2. With respect to the Fronteras call mentioned above, I post my two public reactions:

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