Funding delays cause chaos for researchers

February 22, 2002

Eight of Spain's scientific bodies have said the system for funding biomedical research is in "chaos", with some projects deprived of expected state support for up to seven months.

The associations, including the Spanish Genetics Society, the Spanish Cancer Research Association and the Spanish Neuroscience Society, represent more than 2,000 biomedical researchers.

They said the delays were "severely distorting the work of basic research teams in general, and, in particular, of biomedicine".

Most research projects are funded by the National Science Plan run by the ministry of science and technology. In 2001, researchers had to apply for funds by March 9 and received notification of acceptance in August or September.

But it was not until this month that some were told how much funding they would receive, while others are still waiting. No one has yet been paid. Funding on previous research projects ran out in June or July.

Vicente Rubio, director of the Valencia Biomedicine Institute, said: "My research is on hold because I don't have the money to work. I managed to borrow money from other projects, but it is a bodge."

The scientific bodies complain that government handling of funding, especially that earmarked for genetics and proteomics research, has been unprofessional. They are disappointed that the setting-up of a dedicated science ministry two years ago has not made for more efficiency.

Luis Miguel Garc!a, president of the Spanish Neuroscience Society, said: "A lack of interest in science is by no means exclusive to the present government, but with the creation of the new ministry things have got much worse."

A ministry official denied that funding rounds were slower now than before and was confident all outstanding amounts would be paid shortly. She said the ministry had introduced a unified process for funding so scientists had to deal with the process only once a year.

The official said the creation of the ministry had brought under a single roof research centres that were once divided between several departments. "Before responsibility for research was fragmented, now it is all coordinated by the ministry," she said.

Professor Rubio believes that there should be several funding rounds throughout the year to prevent ministry staff being snowed under by the workload - about 4,000 funding applications were made in 2001 and 2,500 of these were successful.

"I think the funding service should be privatised," he said. "They still have a very civil service-style set-up with people who only work limited hours each day."

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