The Economist and the demise of Argentinean science

Gorojovsky Gorojovsky at SPAMarnet.com.ar
Sat Feb 24 20:37:17 MST 2001


A cursory but scathing article on the ravaging of Argentinean science. Of
course, no mention is made at all of the relation between these policies and
the payment of the foreign debt, structural deindustrialization, educational
barbarism, and so on. But well, this is The Economist. When Argentineans retake
power of our own country and begin our path again, The Economist will most
certainly give detailed information on how we are Fascists full of resentment.
But this time has not come yet.

The article mentions the Argentinean Nobel prize winners. There are a couple of
things to be said on at least two of them (clearly awarded due to political
more than academic reasons), but this will be theme for a future posting, if
ever. As to Roberto Perazzo, if I am not wrong he is either my teacher of
Physics at high school or a relative of his. He was an extraordinary teacher of
physics and at the same time a vintage right-wing reactionary. His remarks on
our “love for success, whether it’s Maradona, a racing-car driver or a trapeze
artist” is to be predicated on our higher, ruling classes, only. It is a
typical example of self-deprecation, of imperialist ideology. But, well, the
article itself is worth a reading. Enrique Oteiza, also mentioned, is a
mainstream "progressive".

Argentina

                Unloved boffins
                Feb 22nd 2001 | BUENOS AIRES
                From The Economist print edition

                SCIENCE is important to Argentina. In a little over 50
                years it has produced three Nobel prizewinners, good
                going for a second-world country of 37m people. Last
                year, to the government’s delight, it even managed
                to sell a locally designed nuclear reactor to Australia.
                Yet its scientists reckon they are unappreciated.

                According to Roberto Perazzo, a physics professor at
                the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), one of the
                country’s main research centres, Argentines “love
                success, whether it’s Maradona, a racing-car driver or
                a trapeze artist”. They therefore like their scientists
                to win prizes; but they do not believe they can
                contribute much to the improvement of society.

                Mr Perazzo points to the evidence. The National
                Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) is close to
                collapse; its library is out of date; research grants
                are down 30%; the staff has been slashed by three
                voluntary retirement plans, and the government has
                ordered a freeze on new appointments. Even the
                scientists who prepared the fuel for the new
                Australian reactor have departed.

                Thin funding lies at the base of this. Argentina
                dedicates a mere 0.35% of its GDP to science and
                technology. Its researchers look enviously at Brazil,
                which spends over twice that proportion and almost
                five times as much in real terms. Last year Brazil
                released, to world acclaim, the genomic sequencing
                of a bacterium that attacks oranges.

                On February 19th Dante Caputo, the science and
                technology secretary, suddenly resigned. He had been
                claiming stoutly that the government, despite its
                fiscal straitjacket, meant to increase science funding
                by 5.4% this year to around $700m, and would make
                similar annual increases in the future. He also
                wanted to channel research funds through the
                universities, which have not controlled scientific
                research since it was removed from their remit by a
                military government in junta days. Many scientists
                liked Mr Caputo’s plan in principle, but worried that
                the universities would prove too disorganised to run
                things properly. They also felt they had not been
                consulted. As he left, Mr Caputo lamented that
                neither the government nor scientists had supported
                him.

                History has made Argentina’s academics easy to
                alarm or offend. The 1970s military regimes’ distrust
                of intellectuals meant that the repression of
                “subversive literature” extended even to mathematics
                textbooks. Even in the relatively enlightened 1990s,
                Domingo Cavallo, an economy minister of deserved
                fame in his own field, famously told scientists to “go
                wash dishes”. As a result, the country has
                haemorrhaged scientists for decades, mainly to the
                United States and Europe, but also to Brazil, whose
                rulers, even in its own years of military rule, took a
                kinder view of their work.

                The flow was interrupted briefly with the victory in
                1999 of the Alliance government, whose manifesto
                included an apparent commitment to raise science
                spending to 1% of GDP. Mr Caputo said it promised
                only to “tend towards” that figure, and that private
                investment, currently around half the level of state
                spending, must make up a big part of it. But many
                company research budgets have fallen, particularly
                after the wave of privatisations during the 1990s,
                with new owners often closing labs and shifting
                research work abroad.

                Enrique Oteiza, a social-sciences professor at UBA,
                points out a worrying trend. In previous decades, the
                scientist-emigrants were mainly senior figures fleeing
                political turmoil. Since the 1990s, most have been
                young researchers who cannot find posts after
                finishing their postgraduate studies. Over the past
                decade, largely in response to pressure from
                international financial institutions, the number of
                local research posts has been cut by almost half. It is
                reckoned that around a third of Argentine researchers
                are now working abroad; among them, maybe, a
                future Nobel-winner or two.


Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
gorojovsky at arnet.com.ar





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