July 9, 2020

In the Pact for Science, 1 + 1 must add more than 2 | Science

When experts analyze the future of our society and the serious problems we face, everyone agrees that one of the keys is the development of solutions thanks to scientific research. From non-polluting renewable energy to sustainable food production for everyone; and from new medicines to environmental conservation, the advancement of society in the 21st century depends critically on science.

That is why support for science is one of the few points where all political options seem to coincide. But for scientific ideas to end up benefiting society, a whole chain of research, more development, more innovation (R&D) is needed: discoveries in laboratories must be transformed into prototypes that demonstrate their usefulness and finally solutions That reach us.

This is a process that increasingly requires a greater investment due to the scientific and technological complexity of the solutions, and there is a direct relationship between what a country invests in R&D and how it manages to develop and take advantage of these solutions, and their corresponding impact. Social, economic and political.

Therefore, it is easy to understand the commitment made by some countries to devote a significant percentage of their GDP to R & D & I, which sometimes reaches 3%, such as the United States, Germany, Switzerland and Japan , but also China and especially Korea. This country, devastated by the war in the 50s, today has achieved the recovery of its economy and its society, and has a leading technology worldwide. And if you want to understand how you have achieved it, you have to look at the commitment to science that your government has done, backed by society and with the involvement of its companies, which today are world leaders, not only in the market, but Also in research. A relevant example: Samsung has been in 2018 the company with the largest investment worldwide in R&D, and also the one that has participated in the largest number of scientific articles – many together with universities and hospitals – and the one that has licensed a greater number of patents.

In Spain, investment in R + D + i is approximately 1.2% of GDP, that is, less than half that of the countries cited. This investment is similarly divided between public investment and private investment, but it differs in its orientation. Public investment is higher in research and development (R&D), while private investment is greater in innovation (i), as on the other hand it is to be expected: it is companies that take the new solutions developed to society.

In the context of a desirable Pact for Science in Spain, it is proposed to reach an investment of 2% of GDP in R & D & I, an objective that was set in Europe by 2020. This increase from the current 1.2% 2% must be carried out gradually so that it is possible, because we should not forget that it would mean increasing the current total investment of about 14,000 million euros per year by about 10,000 million more.

From the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), and within our strategic plan, we have proposed that this increase be carried out in a sustained manner, increasing this investment by around 10% annually until 2025. But the important thing is not only to raise the investment, but determine what it means. In other words, this increase should be used to find out how to improve our R&D system as a whole, and not just to do more of the same.

Fortunately, in the current social context we have a global reference on where we should focus our efforts: the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Achieving these objectives requires improving our research on climate change, on sustainable management of plastics, on renewable energy storage, on healthy aging, on ocean conservation, on how to achieve a balance between friendlier cities and the preservation of the rural environment. In short, it is about building a sustainable future by improving everyone's quality of life.

But we also need a pact on the instruments to make this investment and to make it become a real change and have a social impact. And here the key is a real and effective collaboration between public and private research: that both come together for the development of the new solutions that society demands. Therefore, we propose that this increase of 2% be achieved by raising public investment in R & D & I up to 1%, and encouraging that private investment in R & D & I also grows up to 1%, and that this increase so important for both parties is especially oriented to joint projects of high impact and long term. Projects in which public research organizations, universities and other public R&D centers collaborate, with the R&D departments of our companies in a complementary manner. Ambitious basic science projects, in which the science industry plays a relevant role, and more applied projects with a high impact on biomedicine, energy, water management, agriculture, food, robotics or intelligence applications artificial.

To achieve this is not just about increasing resources, a new way of managing public investment in research is also required, much more agile and flexible, that is not so limited, almost collapsed, by the strict regulations required by other sectors of Public administration And at the same time, the tax treatment of companies that are really committed to investing in R & D & I in the country and collaborate in these projects must be improved. So as in other countries, it allows us to retain the talent of our brightest young people, value technical staff and better equip laboratories, in order to take advantage of the ideas generated in research centers and business departments. , and thus gradually transform the economic system of our country by providing it with a solid base of R & D & I.

Otherwise, and we all know it, even if nobody wants to say it in public, our destiny is to be a country of services, where we can only compete by reducing costs, salaries included, and the wealth generated cannot guarantee our quality of life in the future, and less before any crisis.

In summary, we have to achieve that this 1% + 1% is much more than 2. And it is not a new formula, but to bet on a solution that already works in other countries. For this we need to realize this Pact for Science, a pact that all parties already support. But above all we need to convince society that it is a key issue for our future, and that it is she herself who demands this progressive increase in investment, the necessary change in management, and that we make public collaboration a reality. private in R&D for the benefit of all.

Rosa Menéndez She is President of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC)

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