Nature 443, 394 (28 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/443394a; Published online 27 September 2006

Hungary's 'reforms' are threatening basic science

Zsuzsanna Izsvák1, Zoltán Ivics1 and Lajos Mátés1

  1. Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Robert Rösslestras zlige 10, D-13092 Berlin, Germany


Your News story "Hungary's science academy slammed as 'obsolete' " (Nature 441, 1034-1035; 2006) rightly highlights the often-hierarchical and somewhat old-fashioned organization of the academic research scene in Hungary. A reform that would provide opportunities to successful Hungarian researchers working all over the world is indeed needed. However, by stating that "the Hungarian government... is trying to reform the country's research system and attract more high-profile scientists", your News story is too kind.

What the government means by 'reform' is budget cuts and restructuring of the increasingly limited resources provided for research. For example, the government did not hide its plans to privatize the academy-owned research infrastructure, as it was hoping to generate cash to deal with its own dire financial situation.

It is not obvious to us that selling some of its most valuable properties would help the academy to renew; on the contrary. Our concern is that a reform process driven by economic pressure would, instead, sacrifice the academy and basic research in Hungary on the altar of questionable economics. This is far from strengthening Hungarian science. We think most Hungarian scientists would agree with us, on the basis of the open letter to the prime minister, signed by some 2,500 scientists, begging the government not to cut the already lean budget allocated to basic scientific research even further (see

Sadly, it seems that, as a central strategy of its 'reform process', the Hungarian government is continuing to attack basic science. It uses the populist argument that Hungary is too small and too poor to 'waste' taxpayers' money on basic-research projects for which a speedy return on investment cannot be immediately identified. Hence it withdraws support from basic science and reallocates it to applied research, or research that is able to produce marketable products in a relatively short period of time.

We believe that this concept puts the basic-research network in Hungary (under the umbrella of the Academy of Sciences) into serious danger. With its short-sighted outlook, the government does not realize that its 'reform' activities undermine the development of a healthy innovation chain, and drown the personal creativity that has been an asset and a source of pride for Hungarian science.

Since it was founded in 1825, the primary mission of the academy has been to keep an eye on the cultural and scientific horizon in service of the nation's long-term interests. No government agenda formulated under economic pressure should compromise this mission.

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