Thursday, April 27, 2006

Letters to Nature

Liviu Giosan indicates on the Ad-Astra site a new letter recently published in the prestigious science journal Nature, about the general situation of scientific research in Eastern Europe (btw: I am 100% convinced that although a lot of these elements are common to most Eastern Europe, Romania's situation was - and still is- the worst). This letter reminds me of a similar initiative that I also had a modest contribution to, but unfortunately that particular idea did not achieve its target. 1 year and a half ago, together with several scientists from the "Ad-Astra" and the "Forumul Academic Roman" organizations (at that time I signed on behalf of the online portal "Romania, Libera in Viitor" where I was editor and started a "Research, Science, Technology" rubrique), we tried to sensibilize the international (science) public opinion about the dramatic situation of the Romanian science, by sending in a brief but concise letter to Nature. Professor George Emil Palade, Romanian Nobel Laureate, also strongly supported this letter. The timing of the letter was just before the new Romanian government was to be formed. We did not get it published however (ex-post I believe the letter might have been published immediately if a single researcher would have signed it, while mentioning in the content that it represents the point of view of more scientists etc, as in the case of the letter mentioned above). In any case, I thought of publishing this letter on my weblog now. Why now? Because most if its content is still actual. Because several shortcomings pointed out in this letter have not been changed at all and those that did change are right now in great danger of being switched back to their earlier status by new policy-makers (in some cases this is, unfortunately, already consumed as mentioned earlier also on this weblog).

Here's the letter, as it was sent to and got rejected by Nature:

Sir – Your journal has frequently reported on the state of science in post-communist Eastern Europe and advocated changes in the European Union’s policies to provide adequate support for this region (Nature 402, 566, 1999; Nature 426, 369, 2003). In your reports and elsewhere, the reform of scientific research in Romania has been shown to lag behind other Eastern European countries. In fact, the situation is even more alarming: research and education in Romania experience a crisis that could damage them beyond repair. Statistics suggest that if the present rate of attrition will continue, research in Romania is in danger to be extinct by 2008! Research groups that still survive owe their existence to almost heroic efforts notwithstanding meager salaries, inadequate funds and outdated infrastructure.

Due to a lack of reform in research and education, the academic and scientific establishments have been subject to abuse and tainted by corruption and nepotism. First-rate scientific production, which is still generated by surviving research groups, owes more to international collaborations than to governmental policy. An increasing number of scientists of Romanian origin find permanent or long-term employment abroad. Concurrently, among Eastern European countries, Romania has one of the highest numbers of graduate students enrolled in Western universities.

On behalf of concerned Romanian scientists, working in their homeland or abroad, we wish to express our deep concern regarding the lack of progress in reforming the research system in Romania. Funding for science has declined on an annual basis well below the average level in the European Union, where Romania is expected to integrate in 2007. Currently, only 0.21% of the national GDP is available for research and development in Romania.

Swift and courageous reform is needed, in order to enable high quality research in Romania. The situation could improve rapidly if Romania’s newly-elected Parliament develops the political will to push for a drastic reform, because the required human resources still exist. As individuals and civic organizations dedicated to the progress of science and education in Romania, we express our readiness to be involved in this process. We urge the European Union to persuade the forthcoming government to address current deficiencies in research and education, to enforce the engagements to which Romania subscribed during the accession negotiations, and to explore alternative policies to support competitive research in candidate countries, particularly in Romania.

The reform of the scientific establishment in Romania should begin with an extensive evaluation of scientific performance based on international standards, coupled with measures toward eradication of corruption and nepotism in the academic and research institutions. Since research and education are declared national priorities, adequate financial support should be provided, matching or exceeding the average funding level in EU countries. Most of the research funds should be distributed via peer-reviewed competition to competitive scientists for infrastructure upgrades, research programs, and adequate salaries. Substantial funding should also be dedicated to slowing down, and ultimately reversing, the brain drain. At the same time, competitive scientists from abroad should be provided with incentives to work in Romania.

George Emil Palade, Nobel Laureate
The Ad Astra Association,
The Romanian Academic Forum,
Free Romania Portal,

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