The elimination of trusts has not only put at risk the creation and the thought but the technological development of our country.
The disappearance of the trusts heralds a deep crisis in science in Mexico. Trusts are the backbone of the scientific system and allow flexibility for long-term projects. The future of many projects, associations and societies is at risk.
The alarm has not only been raised among researchers, but also among the student community that, for example, has seen how the biotechnology area has been eliminated from Conacyt. It is possible that, in the absence of public support, the only way to obtain resources is through the private sector.
Dr. Alfredo Herrera Estrella, director of the National Genomics Laboratory for Biodiversity, Cinvestav, recently praised internationally for sequencing the avocado genome, talks with Dr. Brenda Valderrama, president of the Academy of Sciences of Morelos, about the risks facing scientific research in Mexico.
If the Mexican scientific community were a person, what would their health status be?
Alfredo Herrera: He would be on the verge of a serious illness that can turn into a chronic illness and it would take decades to recover.
Brenda Valderrama: We are also in the denial phase. Regularly, when a person is diagnosed with a serious illness, the first thing they do is deny it: “but I was fine yesterday”, “I’m just tired, I have a cup of tea and you will see how well I wake up”. This is our community.
AH: It is important that a family member of this patient is able to make him see that he “needs to go to the doctor”, “that it is urgent to find a solution”. The longer we let the advance of this disease run, the more difficult it will be to get out of it.
BV: The big problem is that every day we have new symptoms. We started the six-year term with minor issues and now they are older. Recently, it was announced that there will be new guidelines for Quality Postgraduate Programs, the only thing that the new Conacyt had not touched. They want to substitute a metric based on scientific quality for one based on perceptions, with a strong ideological component.
AH: That is one of the factors that have been a common denominator: there is a strong ideological component in Conacyt’s decision-making. It is very difficult to break with these schemes. While scientists speak with solid data and information, which can be debated and even corrected, the authorities take an ideological position. It is difficult for us to coincide because it is like trying to tie two people who do not live in the same world. “What will be lost with the disappearance of the science trusts?”
BV: These funds are the backbone of the scientific system. All Conacyt programs are intertwined. For one to be able to belong to the National System of Researchers, one has to be a tutor of a Quality Postgraduate course; To be in a Postgraduate degree you have to be in an institution that has ReniecyT (National Registry of Scientific and Technological Institutions and Companies); For the institution to have ReniecyT, it had to have managed Conacyt projects. When trusts disappear, you disrupt the entire system.
AH: The Secretary of the Treasury himself has said that in budgetary terms the disappearance of trusts is a small amount compared to the expenses that the country has in a year. But for our sector they are fundamental, they are our backbone and allow us to have the flexibility to carry out long-term projects.
BV: The Treasury says that we are going to exercise the resources from January 1 to December 31. Is a lie. That’s just in theory; In practice, we began to receive the fiscal money around March and we have to close it at the beginning of October. What do I do the next six months of the year? How do I move?
AH: Our sector had taken important steps, but it was still weak because there are few researchers for the population size of Mexico. In exchange for that, they had worked on quality. Many associations and scientific societies had been consolidated that allowed this advance.
BV: The fact that we had robust funds, with clear operating rules, with precise operating manuals, allowed us to avoid, from 2002 until today, an internal crisis. The current crisis did not break out inside. It was not the ineptitude of the trusts that caused it. The torpedoes came from outside.
AH: Trusts managed to decentralize science in Mexico. We have UNAM , which is the most solid research house in the country, but it mainly operates in Mexico City. Instead, the mixed funds allowed to establish research projects throughout the republic. They may not have been large sums of money, but they did provide many young scientists their first opportunity.
The scientists have been forced to leave their academic activities and take to the streets to protest.
BV: We not only took to the streets, but we allied ourselves. A broad block formed. The families of the victims, journalists at risk and human rights defenders are going to work together. It is a situation that would hardly have happened in other circumstances.
AH: Historically, Mexican scientists have been politically apathetic. This situation has led us to realize that we have to act, that we have to be united. Fortunately, it has happened. But we were forced to do so for reasons of imminent danger, not because of a risk to our private lives or our salaries, but to our scientific endeavors.
BV: I feel like that apathy still exists. It has taken a lot of work for the community to react to these problems. We weren’t used to being treated badly. If a complaint had arisen, it was because there was not enough budget but that also led us to be oblivious to the operating mechanisms of our system.
Conacyt eliminated the biotechnology area from the regulations of the National System of Researchers, a discipline that has been criticized by director Elena Álvarez-Buylla.
BV: It causes us deep concern. It seems that within Conacyt there is confusion about what biotechnology means and, given the inability to face this intellectual challenge, it has chosen to disappear the area. Our students are in a terrible crisis because they decided to study an area that suddenly no longer exists for Conacyt.
AH: Again I think it is an ideological coup. It is a message to the community that this area is not loved, when in the world it is one of the areas that has contributed the most to the production of wealth and the solution of social problems. We have many examples in the development of vaccines, antivenoms or in the food area.
BV: I don’t know if you agree with me, but this decision will lead to the privatization of biotechnology.
AH: Given the lack of public support, the only way to obtain resources will be through the private sector. Businesses could appropriate these developments. And instead of helping the people, we will be benefiting companies. I am convinced that it is something that this government does not want to happen.
BV: With these decisions, what they are causing is that young people do not want to dedicate themselves to science. They have branded our community “corrupt, fifís and even inept” because, according to them, we have not generated “progress”. It is a regrettable message. If there is any indication of corruption or deviations, it must be verified and those responsible are punished. We are never going to defend those kinds of people. However, a serious mistake is being made in pointing out that everything scientists do is corruption. There is a lack of government understanding of what science means.