A science fair took place outside Congress yesterday morning, where researchers used stalls, PowerPoint presentations, and posters to display their work, their research focuses, and the relevance it has to society. Why? There is a 30 percent slash to the science budget this year, despite previous promises from the Macri administration, which will have vast and direct impact on scientists throughout the country.
The cuts will have many immediate effects on research. As the amount of money universities receive is cut, they will be forced to stop grant funding. This means, in turn, that the number of new researchers entering the field will drop. Many institutions face under-funding, up to 98 percent of organizations, according to CONICET’s ex-president. Priscila Saracino, of the Institute of Immunology at the University of Buenos Aires, says that the cuts will make it very difficult for the Institute to purchase the required supplies to carry out their research.
As The Bubble reported in December, the country’s leading scientific funding and research body CONICET will have to cut the intake of new scientists by 60 percent in 2017. This year’s intake for new researchers at CONICET is 50 percent less than what took place in 2015.
Among the protesters yesterday were people prevented from starting their research programs with CONICET due to the cuts, despite having passed all of the entry requirements and application stages. During the first part of the Kirchner administrations, CONICET enjoyed considerable growth, from 3,000 researchers at in 2003 to 10,800 in 2013.
But while the Kirchners no doubt plugged a lot of money into research and development investments, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Lino Barañao, argued that this in itself wasn’t necessarily useful. His idea is that it is not enough to simply throw money into research; the government needs to ensure that ideas and discoveries are applied, to create jobs, attract investment and help sustain the economy.
As a result, those taking part in yesterday’s science fair were keen to stress the importance and practical benefit linked to their research. The material displayed at the fair aimed to shed light on what the researchers actually do behind the scenes and furthermore, to stress why they do it: “for the people, for the development of the country.”
As well as the more direct effects, many also believe the fiscal scaling back has a negative social impact, devaluing the role of science in society. Ángel Mauro, who Works for the National Atomic Energy Commission, told Pagina 12 yesterday, “our society doesn’t lend itself to supporting developments in science and technology…we have to take to the streets to defend it ourselves.”
When President Mauricio Macri arrived, to deliver his State of The Nation Speech in Congress yesterday, one thing was very clear: the researchers that were protesting are not his biggest fans. He was met with a chorus of boos and slurs. In his electoral campaign, Macri promised to allocate 1.5 percent of 2017’s total national budget to science. When it came down to it though, only 0.59 percent has been dedicated to this sector, leaving many scientists to ask whether the State is doing enough to promote the role of science in society, and whether scientific progress will be set back as a result of the cuts.