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Spanish Bureaucracy Stifles Scientific Research


The Spanish economy has been taking a beating since the Euro crisis began. Unemployment rates in Spain are at record levels, with young people hit particularly hard. Young, out-of-work Spaniards are increasingly leaving home in search of greener pastures elsewhere. Other EU countries like Germany, France or Great Britain, as well as the United States, offer young Spaniards far rosier prospects.

The economic downturn isn’t the only thing frustrating young and educated Spaniards, though. Spanish astrophysicist Amaya Moro-Martin, who is leaving the Spanish National Research Council for a job with NASA, explained her departure in an open letter to embattled Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The letter details her grievances with the hidebound, outsized and unresponsive Spanish bureaucracy, devoting particular ire to the reams of paperwork and endless certificates the country’s official institutions require. Ms. Moro-Martin’s letter struck a chord in Spain and has been translated and reprinted in The Guardian:

I am also sending you the 700 pages of certificates and documents requested to certify the veracity of my curriculum vitae, which, due to the hiring freeze, I will no longer need. Collecting all this documentation was a tremendously satisfying research project. You should know that, with the many jobs that I have applied for outside Spain, the requested documentation is slightly briefer, approximately 10 pages: a research plan and a short curriculum vitae that does not need to be backed up with certificates….

You should know that I have never been able to apply for a faculty job in a Spanish university because I do not have the official accreditation from the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA), an accreditation that can only be obtained if one has a previous link with a Spanish university. Strangely, neither Princeton University nor the University of California at Berkeley complained about the lack of such an accreditation when I was interviewed, years ago, for faculty positions at those institutions.

Even in a country with a booming economy, bureaucratic obstacle courses like this can put a serious drag on the market and hinder growth. In a crisis-hit country like Spain, though, this sort of inefficiency can be deadly. Bleak economic prospects are already driving talented young Spaniards to seek their fortunes abroad. It’s imperative that the country do all it can to open up opportunities for those who remain. Removing the burdens that Ms. Moro-Martin describes would be an excellent place to start.

[Spanish flag image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Pete

    Mr. Mead, if we were to be honest, we’d have to admit that Spain has little in the way of scientific or technologically expertise.

    One effect of this is that such a society allows petty bureaucrats to call the shots because there is little at risk to “science” as there is no real science to be jeopardized.

    What passes for science in Spain (and most other countries) is just trying to understand what has been discovered and/or developed in America. It’s all catch-up.

    Back to the stiffing bureaucrats: The shots they call are slanted to their own self-interest. This appears as mountains of red tape, onerous and arbitrary rules & regulations, and the expansion of the bureaucracy.

    • Andrew Allison

      An extraordinarily xenophobic and totally inaccurate comment. The Renaissance, which started 300 years before America came into being, is regarded as the great age of scientific discovery, and built on the Greek discoveries 2000 years earlier. As the post clearly demonstrates, the talent is still there but being stifled by bureaucracy. I should point out that NASA, where the young lady is going to work, was built on the discoveries and development of scientists in Germany. And that Einstein did his seminal work before taking up residence in the US in 1933.

      • Pete

        Earth to Andy. The obvious context I’m speaking of is the modern ear — say post WWII.

        • Andrew Allison
          • Pete

            Let’s be ovbjective when discussing Spain’s scientific prowess.

            In the last, say, 75-years, how many Nobel Prizes has Spain won in any of the sciences or medicine?

            How many technological innovations have come out of Spain in that time frame??

            What percent of world wide patents have been awarded to Spain?

          • Andrew Allison

            “What passes for science in Spain (and most other countries)”

          • Andrew Allison

            Engage brain, or at least Google, before operating fingers.

  • wigwag

    Americans should be very proud of the way the United States Government funds scientific research. Although (to use Professor Mead’s nomenclature) the American research funding enterprise is “blue” on steroids its remarkably efficient, non-bureaucratic and relatively apolitical.

    The United States Government funds more scientific research than any other entity in the known universe; for the most part it does a remarkably good job, especially compared to European and Asian nations.

    Yes, there are many things that could be improved and made more efficient and there are scores of areas where significant cost savings could be found. But overall, there’s a reason that America’s scientific establishment is the envy of the world; it because its the best. It’s the American Government at its best.

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