Do you have a Nobel Prize, a Fields Medal or an Abel Prize? Are you on the Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list? Do you want to spend between six and twelve months in Castilla y León? Well, the Education Council of the Castilian-Leonese Government has good news for you: the ‘Andrés Laguna’ programme, a call for the incorporation of high-impact researchers that the scientific community if you are taking with the philosophy of “laughing, not to cry”.
A bit of context. A few days ago, the Ministry of Education of Castilla y León activated the ‘Andrés Laguna’ program with the idea of providing tools to the universities of Castilla y León and the CSIC headquarters in the community to attract researchers “of recognized prestige”. . It is nothing different from what, for years, has been done at almost all levels of the national administration with competences in the field.
What is striking is that the addition that (in addition to clarifying the duration of the contract or specifying that a doctoral degree is required) states that participants must “appear on the Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list or have accredited merits of similar characteristics , preferably having been awarded the Nobel Prize in their specialty, the Abel Prize or the Fields Medal”.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? In other words, if we want to attract “high-impact researchers” it is logical to prefer “the crème de la crème” of the international scientific community. However, it is striking precisely because it allows us to see in a very clear and simple way everything that is wrong in Spanish policies to “capture talent”.
It is evident that the objective of this program is not to capture Nobel prizes and that, unless there is a specific case that can benefit from it, it does not really try to do so either. Or, at least, it shouldn’t. What happens is that “common sense” ideas are simply reproduced that (no matter how much disorientation they show) are dissolved in the collective imagination.
Competing in the contemporary world. A good example to understand what we are talking about is soccer. No one would expect a local team to ‘capture’ top-level players (“preferably those who have been awarded the Ballon d’Or”) with such a call-up. And no one would expect that because we intuitively understand that, even in activities so closely tied to talent, it takes much more than a player.
The players need human teams, technical and financial resources, infrastructures. They need an ecosystem that helps them give the best of themselves. In research and science the same thing happens, but in a much more exacerbated way.
Although in the world of soccer, Spain can bet on a certain “extractivism” and “capture” foreign talent to play in the league, competing on an equal footing with the rest of the soccer powers; in science we are light years ahead of the best institutions in the world.
It is not just that we cannot offer advantageous conditions to these elite scientists, it is that we could not take advantage of the social and intellectual capital that they would bring with them. It is enough to remember the example of Francis Mojica and his discovery of CRISPR, but the Nobel Prize went a long way from here. Right to the place where the idea could be developed.
Our science model. That is why the call of the Junta de Castilla y León is “fun”. But, for that very reason, it is “symptomatic.” Spain does not have a science model to aspire to. Progress has been made in recent years, yes; but we are still not at all clear about what science we want and that constantly generates contradictory policies.
On the one hand, we want a dense scientific-industrial network that will structure the territory. On the other, we say we want to bet on (using, again, the sports simile) “basic science”. Lastly, we remain anchored in the idea that we should aspire to an elite science. And everything cannot be done (much less with the budget that the country manages).
Hence the call for the Board to be “amusing”, “symptomatic” and worrisome: it is the clearest reflection that a serious, solvent and forward-looking scientific policy is needed in the country; but also that we are light years away from achieving it.
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Image | Nobel Foundation | Simon Caminada