R.I.P Portuguese Science
    By Catarina Amorim | July 3rd 2014 11:48 AM | 11 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Catarina

    After many years as a scientist (immunology) at Oxford University I moved into scientific journalism and public understanding of science. I am...

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    Portuguese government shuts down half of the research units in the country

    The Portuguese funding agency for science (Fundação para a Ciência e aTecnologia – FCT) has just announced lthat it will stop  funding nearly half of the research units in the country (154 units out of 322), which means to destroy the career of about a third of the total number of researchers in the country (5187 out of 15444).

    Of these soon to be extinct research units, 1904 researchers in 71 units will be gradually fired in the next 6 years. The remainder 3283 researchers  will be award an extremely limited amount of funding, ranging from less than $7000/year (for units with less than 40 members and no laboratory equipment) to less than $50000€ (for laboratories units with more than 81 researchers), which in practice is a a slow death sentence as no research can be done with that budget. Just to put this in context, in the UK a reasonable grant will give the laboratory for  EACH biomedical researcher is around $1700/month. 

    For each biomedical UK researcher $20,400/year.  

    For 81 Portuguese researchers $50,000/year. 

     Worst , most of units closed have show competitive productivity scores at the international level, according to an Elsevier study requested by the same FCT. 

    Ignoring this, the government relied on an evaluation led by the European Science Foundation, based solely on documents, without interviews to the researchers or visits  to the units. Not only that but the panels making decisions were formed mostly by non-specialists in the area. For example, the one that  decided to shut down most of the condensed matter physics units in the country, had a 1 specialist in condensed matter physics out of 11 people.

    Conditions have never been easy for portuguese researchers - PhDs financed by FCT earn $,1337/month and , worst,   there is no real professional category of "scientist"  what means that we are not integrated in the national security scheme, except voluntarily so researchers with grants have no real pension plan. Also their grants have not been financially updated/increased  since 2002 what means a 25% financial reduction when considering inflation.

    In the last 20 years, portuguese science has been growing steadily, with several research laboratories of excellence appearing, gaining a place in the international research panorama. Money was invested in educate researchers and create laboratories, and the results were visible. In a world as scientific-technological as ours, science is progress and development.  Last 3 year 300 000 portuguese emigrated , many scientists due to the economical measures. IN a country of 10 millions this means that only in this period we already lost 3% of the population. Now this. Like Garcia Marquez so well put "a chronicle of a death foretold".


    FCT webpage onthe evaluation process (in English)

    Adapted from


    This sounds even more drastic than the measures taken by the not-so-pro-science Harper government in Canada.
    That is awful but it may be our fault as scientist for not understanding the psychology of the public.  I particular that our results are "theories" which no matter how well we explain it seems to just mean a guess to people.   They think "my guess is as good as yours", and don't see why they should pay for that. 

    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Unfortunately, it's far worse than that. Our present rulers aren't ignorant, I'm sure they know very well how important it is for a country to have an advanced scientific community and how science and innovation are what, in today's world, can keep a country on top, developed and independent. No, what we have here is not ignorance, it's malice and greed from a ruling class who expect to be hugely compensated for a systematic and deliberate destruction of the country. The purpose is to set us back as much as possible, so that we become even cheaper labour for the EU. Those with higher education are expected to migrate within the EU and help develop whichever country they move in to, everyone else is supposed to get used to working longer hours for a lot less (we already had one of the lowest incomes in the EU to begin with). It's not just science that suffers, education and healthcare have been taking severe blows too since this government was elected. Cheap, compliant, barely educated labour for the most menial tasks, that's the purpose of all this.

    :(   I really hope that is not the case.  One of the EU's big problems is that the EUians don't see themselves as one diverse nation like us Americans.  That someone in say Germany, France or the UK sees other Europeans as "cheap labor" is a great insult.  It may take a century or two...if the EU last that long maybe this won't be an issue.  
    Change might happen from the grassroots up.  Change enough minds from anti-science to pro-science and the rulers will have to listen or lose their jobs.    
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    One of the EU's big problems is that the EUians don't see themselves as one diverse nation like us Americans.
    We wouldn’t be Europeans if we did.  Emperors from Julius Caesar onwards have tried to impose their version of European Union, but it has always cracked up sooner or later.

    In 1859, Luxembourg celebrated their first cross-border railway link with a song De Feierwon (cognate English words: fire wagon!)  However much they appreciated easier links to their neighbours, nevertheless the chorus goes:

        Kommt hier aus Frankräich, Belgie, Preisen,
        Mir wellen iech ons Hémecht weisen,
        Frot dir no alle Säiten hin,
        Mir welle bleiwe wat mir sin.
        Come here from France, Belgium, Prussia,
        we want to show you our fatherland
        ask in all directions,
        We want to remain what we are.

    Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin (we want to remain what we are) is the national motto of Luxembourg.  However, although he is a Luxembourger, the recently appointed Head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker does not seem to have heard of it!

    He is said to have been the strongest federalist among the candidates for the job.  I wonder, is he the sort of person who does not care if his own country disappears from the map?

     * * * * * *

    Enough of politics for the moment.  

    On a personal note, I hope my former colleagues in Portugal are not for the chop.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    That is just dreadful, Catarina. But thanks for telling us about it.


    The whole thing is appalling and is destroying the life of countless scientists that could have made a difference in society, and the gains of the last 20 years. Yes there were problems in some research centres from corruption to not so good scientific  results,  but change the system, install better controls, don't use the opportunity to destroy it.

    Science communication for example, what we are doing here after all, have disappeared already from the subjects eligible for grants by the government. A country without science literacy  is not a democratic country. Ignorance is bliss for this government 

    I think that the fact that our PM advised people to emigrate if they didn't  have a job says it all. The country is being destroyed from within by shameless politicians. All pensions had huge cuts , and the same for government employees except… can you guess who?
    Although the picture is as dark as you say (and I fear that the Sofia is also probably right about the cheap labour agenda), I think that that your numbers on Portuguese emigration are wrong... The official data from INE puts the annual numbers of new Portuguese emigrants are around 125.000 (for the last two years)... So the good news in that Portugal, as a modern country is dying, but at the slower rate of 1,2 % per year...


    I know, I actually corrected the data after, like you I feel much better now  Jose'
    Portugal is going to live from tourism. Scientists are not needed, right? :s

    Great companies understand how important it is to invest in their people and they don't stop investing when crisis hits them because if they do, the great people leave and the not so great people stay, dooming the company.

    I think this simple concept is very hard to understand if you are a politician.

    And more , maybe they will start listening….?