The scientific sector in Spain is outraged by the director of the Spanish Research Agency (AEI), Domènec Espriu Climent. Espriu, professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Barcelona, referred to the precariousness in the field of Spanish research in the following terms in the framework of a recent debate: “This precariousness or precariousness... I don't know... Precarious is the life of the man who comes with a canoe.”
The nightmare of requesting a public contract to investigate in Spain
The cut, a brief fragment that is part of a conversation of more than an hour on precariousness with three scientists from the Catalan group Neurones Fregides (fried neurons), It's been on YouTube for almost three months (from 1h08 minutes), but it has been triggered this Monday, when an anonymous user –and created ad hoc, apparently– has recovered that intervention and criticized the comment of the head of public research in Spain.
The fragment, just eight seconds, has spread rapidly among groups of researchers, who have spent years denouncing the precariousness of a system with lower salaries than 13 years ago and a career that does not stabilize until after 40, in the case of those who do not have emigrated to seek a better life. "It is a real shame that the director of the Spanish Research Agency trivializes and ridicules the precariousness that we researchers suffer," they make him ugly from the Federation of Young/Precarious Researchers (FJI).
From the sector of the General Administration of the State of CCOO, they add that it is "outrageous" that the person "who should be the first interested in the precariousness suffered by the sector, transmits banality and sees the investigation not as a job that everyone should have recognized labor rights, but as a bohemian and romantic activity”, explains the person in charge of Employment and Youth, Elisa Fernández, alluding to another part of Espriu's intervention. She is also reminded by several researchers of her salary of 91,371.22 euros, six times higher than what a predoctoral researcher earns. The association of researchers abroad Raicex has described Espriu's words as "unfortunate: Spanish society is increasingly aware of the difficulties of this group".
The issue has gone beyond the merely scientific and has reached Congress, where More Country has registered a written question so that the Government, on whom the AEI reports, give his opinion on the matter. The PP has also demanded a rectification, and if it does not arrive, it will ask for its appearance, as announced by deputy Pedro Navarro.
The Ministry of Science explains to this newspaper that "anyone who has been in the science system in the last ten years knows that precariousness exists, especially among the youngest", and highlights the series of initiatives that the portfolio directed by Diana Morant to combat it, such as the establishment of indefinite contracts in the public science system, that the AEI budget has doubled in two years, the improvement of conditions and the increase in the contracts for research.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I care”
Espriu himself points out this argument in conversation with this newspaper. “I was surprised to see this morning that a very studied cut appeared, I don't know for what purpose”, he maintains. “Anyone who knows me knows that I am concerned about allocating resources for research”, he continues while listing the progress made in recent years: “We have doubled the resources, almost tripled the Ramón y Cajal calls and improved the Juan de la Cierva and predoctoral ”. But does he believe that there is precariousness in Spanish research? "Obviously, there is precariousness and scarcity of resources," he replies.
Before, also on Twitter, he had left a message to the anonymous complainant and, as a tip, to the PP: “It seems that whoever left inane science, reduced predoctoral contracts by half and imposed a zero replacement rate, is bothered that the AEI Double your budget and triple your onboarding contracts. He was surprised by the wave of retweets from a fake profile. 100% for our R&D, always!” she wrote. He later posted a statementon the same social network, in which he qualified his words and stated that precariousness "exists and is a problem (...) that we are going to solve."
But the controversy grew as the hours passed, and the criticism of young researchers or groups of scientists was joined by weighty profiles, such as that of the director of the IMDEA Materials institute, José Manuel Torralba, who wrote that "if he is not capable of accepting and understand the criticism that his unfortunate statements have raised, from all kinds of bodies and profiles, he should possibly reflect on his suitability to lead the Agency”. Several university professors also made public their discomfort with Espriu's words.
If you are not able to accept and understand the criticism that your unfortunate statements have raised, from all kinds of levels and profiles, you should possibly reflect on your suitability to lead the @AgEInves
– José Manuel Torralba 🇺🇦 #SinCienciaNoHayFuturo (@torralba59) May 17, 2022
This intervention by Espriu occurs towards the end of the talk, when he answers the scientist Estefanía Alcaide, predoctoral researcher in Human Molecular Genetics at the University of Barcelona, who protests the bureaucratic nightmare of being aware of the different calls of public contracts that exist in Spain and calls for a centralized system so as not to have to wade through official bulletins and waste hours and hours on bureaucratic issues.
This is the complete intervention: “I would like to end on a note of optimism, because the trajectory shows us that we have improved a lot. I will not give examples because it would take us too long. The word precarious or precarious... I don't know... Precarious is the life of the man who comes in a canoe. We are in a society that is privileged, that allows us to offer young people those opportunities, which are not as good as we would like, but I think we have to go with the high beams around the world and see the progress and see what we are doing the good direction in spite of everything. Precariousness in science has always existed. Mr [Bernhard] Riemann, a great scientist and mathematician, made a living and made a great career by giving private lessons. and the lord [Albert] Einstein, until he was already a very consecrated figure, had to work in a patent office”, he begins.
And he continues: “Science has always had this aspect that is a bit bohemian, a bit romantic, a bit adventurous, a bit risky... Whoever wants something has to take risks. It is fantastic that now there are many more opportunities and it would be even better if they were well organized and that it did not happen as Estefanía comments, that everything arrives at the wrong time and in different calls. I don't know if centralization is what we need, but what we surely do need is a little more common sense”, she closes.
Listening to the full intervention has reaffirmed scientists and politicians that the phrase was not taken out of context. "He has said what he has said," explains Héctor Tejero, the person in charge of the matter in Más País. “The director is one of the most important positions [de la investigación] in the country, they are not statements out of context. It seems to us a misplaced statement, a person in his position should be more careful”.
From CCOO they remember that the research staff, "highly specialized, from technical and management staff to research staff with several years of postdoctoral experience, which stabilizes after 40 years, with salaries bordering on the Minimum Interprofessional Salary and who are being forced to emigrating to be able to continue working in the research sector is precarious staff”.