Thursday, November 13, 2008

Expense or investment?

by Martín Bonfil Olivera
Published on the Mexican newspaper Milenio Diario, November 5, 2008

"México requires creators, not only servants", the ex-principal of the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), José Sarukhán said in Xalapa (La Jornada, October 30).

He was not referring to artistic creators, but scientific researchers, engineers and experts in the humanities. University people formed in the discipline of academia and research.

Scientists are professionals that, apart from their high degree of specialization, require a great deal of creativity to be efficient. Ruy Pérez Tamayo, the famous Mexican pathologist, defines science as "a creative human activity whose objective is the comprehension of nature and whose product is knowledge."

That's why good scientists cannot be formed - and neither can engineers or humanists - in schools that do not perform research. Education seen as simple instruction is not enough.

The global economical crisis threatens to cut the budget for science and technology in our Country. Especially, as usual, the budget for academia and research (and even more in the case of the so called "basic" research).

The absurd, denounced by Marcelino Cereijido, the well known Mexican-Argentinean researcher, of considering the budget for science and technology as a superfluous expense, instead of a strategic investment, is still current. "We will invest in science when we have solved our current problems", we think, ignoring that scientific research is precisely the first step in solving those problems.

The chain that goes from the production of scientific knowledge - academic work - trhough technological applications, to a more solid industry, and finally a more vigorous economy, with its consequent social goods, is still ignored by government politics.

Fortunately, some voices are rising to try and change things. Institutions like UNAM, the Scientific and Technological Consulting Forum, the Mexican Academy of Sciences and others have asked to stop the cuts and for an increase in the investment in these areas. A budget increase for Conacyt has been requested for 2009, to reinforce the technical-scientific community of our Country. Let's see if the people who decide how public money is spent have their priorities right.

(translated by Adrián Robles Benavides)

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