Published online 4 March 2011 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2011.136

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Spanish researchers campaign to change science law

Draft bill is inadequate on career structures, say researchers.

Several thousand Spanish scientists have signed a letter petitioning the country's prime minister.C. Arquimbau

Two-and-a-half thousand Spanish scientists, including 150 full professors and four research-centre directors, have sent a petition to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the country's prime minister, asking for changes to a science and technology law currently being debated in the country's parliament.

The letter, delivered on 22 February, is the latest move in a sustained campaign by Spanish researchers. On 18 February, the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE) sought assurances that a proposed state research agency would be independent from the government. And over the past year, the country's Federation of Young Researchers (FJI) has lobbied for nine amendments to the draft bill.

The bill in question, a pet project of Cristina Garmendia, Spain's science minister, updates a 1986 law that was the country's first scientific legislation after becoming a democracy.

The incoming law aims to give PhD students contracts, rather than fellowships, and to allow scientists to move more easily between the public and private sectors. It aims to create a state research agency with the power to grant independent funding, and is designed to coordinate the efforts of regional governments. The law will also apply to researchers at universities and hospitals, who were omitted from the 1986 bill.

No stability

The latest bill has been through two drafts since it was first put forward last May, and is still being discussed. Previous versions proposed giving researchers the opportunity to win five-year, tenure-track contracts with regular evaluations that, if passed, would lead to a stable job.

"The current draft does not grant these tenure opportunities," says Amaya Moro-Martín, a physicist at the Centre for Astrobiology in Madrid, and one of the promoters of the letter delivered to the prime minister. The petition proposes restoring the tenure-track position.

The draft bill also retains some PhD fellowships, she adds, and allows for scientists' salaries to be up to 44% less than those of workers performing similar tasks.

The amendments proposed by the FJI address these issues. "We see a lot of goodwill, but not much more," says Vicente Claramonte, a philosopher of science at the University of Valencia and president of the FJI.

Civil-service jobs remain researchers' main source of long-term employment, but difficulties in Spain as a result of the economic crisis mean that fewer such jobs are available: the CSIC has only 30 vacancies for 2011, down from 250 in 2007.

Diluted promise

The current draft is also unclear on whether the state research agency will be independent from the government.

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COSCE is concerned that the agency will become "one more organism in an already confused structure", says Joan Guinovart, director of the Institute of Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona, and COSCE president. He is concerned that the bill has drifted away from any real attempt to improve Spanish science. "The original impulse is lost; the current project is inadequate," says Guinovart.

"The deepest problem is the lack of long-term planning," says Moro-Martín. "The danger is that Spain will lose several generations of researchers, and that the shift to a knowledge-based economy will be prevented." 

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  • #61785

    It's already banned by the supreme court, so I don't much see the need

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