The Spanish government's secretary for research, development and innovation has attempted to put a positive spin on the country's severe shortfall in research funding (C. Vela Nature 486, 7; 2012). But the latest drop in funds is unlikely to make the little science that remains more competitive.

Returns from investment in science are unpredictable. But limited funding will mean that high-risk projects get left out and that scientists will be driven abroad or choose alternative careers. Investment during the bonanza years will have served no purpose.

These deep cuts for science will deprive the Spanish economy as a whole. Creating an environment that is conducive to research and innovation calls for a long and sustained input from government, irrespective of economic cycles.