Spanish scientists, whose discontent with the workings of the country's science and technology system has been growing, last week won an unexpected opportunity to take their concerns directly to the prime minister, José María Aznar.
Aznar met six leading scientists on 9 January at the presidential palace, along with his science adviser Pablo Vázquez and the heads of the Ministry of Science and Technology and the research arm of the Ministry of Health.
The prime minister told the delegation that the planned 2000–04 public funds for research were unlikely to be increased (Nature 402, 223; 1999). But, according to officials present, the meeting agreed on the acute need to prioritize areas of research more effectively, and to concentrate resources to build internationally competitive research teams such as that at the National Centre of Biotechnology in Madrid.
Other areas of agreement were the need to implement a continuous evaluation system for research, the need for new types of employment contract for researchers in the public sector, and the need for better links between the public and private sectors.
The scientists at the meeting included Mariano Barbacid, head of the National Centre for Cancer Research; Salvador Moncada, science adviser to the Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases and director of the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research at University College London; and Pere Puigdomènech, head of the Molecular Biology Institute in Barcelona. Juan Ramón Alaix, president of the Pharmacia drug company in Spain, represented the private sector.
The dialogue was very positive, says Barbacid, who is hoping it will increase the prime minister's support for Spain's scientific development.
Vázquez says that the meeting was Aznar's own initiative, and that the prime minister plans further meetings with other scientists every two or three months. “Aznar wants to obtain information directly from the horse's mouth concerning the problems faced by the scientific community,” Vázquez says.