Science in Chile: Falling short or aiming high?
You may have seen our recent post where the pressure group mascienciaparachile argued for more planning and spending on research in Chile. The group published a letter in Science which can be found here outlining their argument. On Friday the Chilean government's funding agency for science and technology CONICYT published a rebuttal letter in the academic journal suggestng that planning and funding for reserch in Chile is not lagging behind. For example, the author (and President of CONICYT) Jose points out that funding has increased since 2008 by a factor of 2.7, PhD numbers are on the increase (see the agreement with King's College London) and electronic journal access will become free for all Chilean scientists and graduate students. The letter is reproduced below:
Chile’s Research Planning
IN THEIR LETTER “CHILE’S RESEARCH PLANNING
falls short” (27 April, p. 412), P. Astudillo et al. argue that CONICYT—Chile’s government funding agency for science and technology (S&T)—is insufficient and should be replaced by a ministry of science. In fact, it is a good time to be a scientist in Chile.
Most of the data Astudillo et al. cite were collected before 2010. The budget of CONICYT has increased almost 2.7 times since 2008, from US$182 million to US$485 million in 2012. Projects in basic science supported by FONDECYT (a subdivision of CONICYT) have increased by 50% since 2010. No discipline in S&T has funded less than 40% of proposals (1). Postdoctoral fellowships in Chile and abroad increased by more than 40% in the past year (2), and they are expected to increase again after the next call [increases to FONDECYT’s budget and Becas Chile are shown on p. 319 of the Budget of the Nation 2012 (3)]. Eleven recipients of the National Prize in Science, including the President of Academy of Science, applauded this change (4).
Contrary to the impression given by Astudillo et al., CONICYT has indeed made research plans, which have been published in the media and discussed in forums with university authorities and scientists (5). A major
share of CONICYT’s budget is devoted to the scholarship program Becas Chile, an effort amounting to about US$200 million in 2012, allowing 3240 Ph.D. students to complete studies in Chile or abroad in 150 universities and programs around the world (4). Estimates show that by 2014, more than 800 Ph.D.s per year will graduate from national and international universities and join the ranks of scientists in Chile’s universities, government, and private sector.
By the end of this year, CONICYT will implement a new fund (FONDEQUIP) aimed at increasing scientifi c competitiveness through access to modern laboratory equipment [(3), p. 320]. Moreover, all Chilean scientists and graduate students will have free electronic access to the major international journals at their universities. Recent data indicate that Chilean science exhibits the highest indicators among all Latin American countries in terms of papers published in journals with high ISI ratings per dollar invested and citations per paper (6). Fifty-three percent of ISI publications by Chilean scientists now have at least one foreign co-author (7).
Meanwhile, four international centers of excellence in the key areas of aquaculture biotechnology, communications and information research, mining, and pro-cessed foods have been launched in the past 2 years by INNOVA CORFO (the government innovation agency), attracting reputed institutions such as Fraunhofer, CSIRO, INRIA, and Wageningen University. By 2014, we expect that six more centers, which will receive a basal funding of up to US$20 million in 10 years, will be ready to start operation.
A good example of the new times for science and technology is astronomy. By 2020, Chile will host almost 70% of the observation capacity in the world, involving a foreign investment of close to US$5.8 billion (8). Chilean astronomers have rights to 10% of the observation time; thus, faculty at astronomy departments in Chilean universities have increased by 50% since 2007 and more than 80 Ph.D. and Master students are enrolled in their programs (9).
Ministries of Science and Technology (MSTs) are not the only alternative for policy and promotion of science. In many instances, MSTs are synonymous with bureaucracy and prone to political favoritism. Administrative costs in CONICYT constitute 3.8% of the budget, all programs have scientifi c advisory committees, and the top officials remained in their posts after the change in government in 2010. More important, CONICYT serves more than 10,000
scientists and graduate students in Chile and abroad. As is well known, this President has met with government authorities and the Congress to reassess the structure and role of CONICYT within the existing National Innovation System created in 2006 (10).
Chile is not at risk of research funding cuts or in desperate need of planning, as Astudillo et al. assert. Our efforts are now centered on increasing the number of scientists (presently around 4500) because empirical evidence (11) suggests that larger investments in R&D must be accompanied by minds and hands to accommodate the increase.
JOSE M. AGUILERA
CONICYT, Santiago, 7500788, Chile. E-mail: email@example.com
References and Notes
1. CONICYT, “Scientifi c Panorama” (November 2011), vol. 25; www.fondecyt.cl/578/articles-27688_panorama_2011.pdf.
2. Becas CONICYT, Comparativo Adjudicaciones Becas Postdoctorado FONDECYT–Becas Chile 2008–2012 (www.becasconicyt.cl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=383&Itemid=1).
3. Ley de Presupuestos del Sector Publico Año 2012 (www.dipres.gob.cl/572/articles-76644_pres_2012.pdf).
4. J. Allende et al., “Results of Fondecyt 2011,” El Mercurio,Letters to the Editor (11 January 2011), p. A2.
5. J. M. Aguilera, “Science and technology in Chile: Using the shortcut,” El Mercurio, special edition, “Science changes our lives” (29 September 2011), p. 2.
6. J. Larrain, M. O’Ryan, B. Santelices, “Scientifi c Productivity,” El Mercurio, Letters to the Editor (21 April 2012), p.
A2; http://blogs.elmercurio.com/columnasycartas/2012/04/21/productividad-cientifi ca.asp.
7. We searched Web of Knowledge/Thomson Reuters, database Web of Science (http://apps.webofknowledge.com/
rencesSaved=) for articles, reviews, and proceedings with affi liations from Chile for year 2010. Of 5379 ISI publications with an author affiliation in Chile, 2843 publications list coauthors with foreign affi liations and 2536 have only authors with affiliations in Chile. Hence, approximately 53% of publications have a foreign coauthor. Our data are available here: www.conicyt.cl/website/privado/colaboracion_2010_24por100_soloXChile.xls.
8. Foreign investment includes astronomical projects such as the Extremely Large Telescope (US$1.5 billion, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (US$500 million), the Giant Magellan Telescope (US$800 million), the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (US$1.0 billion), the Very Large Telescope ($700 million), Gemini (US$300 million), and investments from Cornell and California Institute of Technology.
9. T. Feder, Phys. Today 65, 20 (2012).
10. Ministry of Economy, Chile, Plan of Innovation to 2014, Division of Innovation (March 2012), pp. 8, 9, and 16; www.economia.gob.cl/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Plan-de-Innovacion-al-2014-Final.pdf.
11. W. T. H. Koha, P. K. Wong, Technol. Forecasting Soc.Change 72, 255 (2005).
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