Scientific research abandoned by politicians


November 19 marked one century since the birth of George Emil Palade, Romanian-born doctor and biologist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1974. In the context of the current electoral confrontations the centennial went by almost unnoticed. And it’s a shame because although he emigrated to the U.S in 1946, George Emil Palade nevertheless remained a great Romanian. In the spring of 1994 he returned to Romania in order to chair a national conference on the country’s role in contemporary science. This event was preceded by a large press conference that took place at the Romanian Academy and that was chaired by the scientist George Emil Palade himself, who was an honorary member of the Romanian Academy. As a journalist I had the honour of attending that press conference and of asking the great scientist two questions.

His answers underlined the fact that the international world of science appreciates the Romanian contributions that are part of the patrimony of universal values, that Romania can take pride in such contributions and in their continuous amplification, that our country has the duty to intensify its collaboration with world scientific centres. For this purpose, the scientist had previously presented at the Romanian Academy a project on training and specializing abroad Romanian scientists from all scientific domains. “That project did not die but it needs resuscitation,” the scientist pointed out during the press conference. Resuscitated or not, that project represented another argument for establishing November 19, the great scientist’s date of birth, as the “Day of the Researcher” in Romania. The “Day of the Researcher” goes by increasingly less noticed too although the potential that the Romanian scientific research has still remains remarkable. It has become almost a tradition for the projects of Romanian researchers to obtain, through the gold and silver medals won at the International Exhibition of Inventions, places superior to those held by countries with great scientific tradition. That is why in 2009 the European Commission chose Romania as the main co-author of a grand European strategic goal: building the world’s most powerful laser, capable of creating new ways of ensuring nuclear safety. The Nuclear Physics Institute in Magurele is the main creation lab when it comes to achieving this strategic goal. And it was chosen precisely on the basis of the fact that Romania became, ever since 1961, through this prestigious scientific research institute, the fourth state in the world (after the US, the former USSR and Japan) to create a powerful laser. Throughout the last half century the Institute in Magurele became the symbol of a scientific school of international prestige. That’s the reason why Romanian physicists but also other specialists – from the fields of medicine for example – are honorary guests at international scientific events and are often asked to host such events themselves. Today unfortunately Romania is experiencing a drama when it comes to scientific research. Her scientific potential is still notable but putting it to good use leaves much to be desired. Corneliu Birtoc Baneasa, a young Romanian scientific researcher won another gold medal at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Brussels. But an increasing number of young and talented researchers like him are forced to emigrate. Because in the last 18 years Romanian officials stopped giving incentives to national scientific research. They remain deaf and blind not only to the suffering of researchers, but also to the Romanian scientific research’s possible global accomplishments. This state of things is explainable not through the lack of money but through a fundamental political blank. The lack of national strategic programmes. As a reservoir of ample creation, scientific research should be tapped mostly on the basis of such strategic programmes, just as it happens in the most developed EU countries. And where such national strategy programmes exist they take precedence in gaining financing from EU funds too. The fact that contemporary Romania managed to absorb only a small amount of the EU funds is explainable because she neglects her national scientific research potential too. Countries from our European area have earmarked for research 3 and even 4 per cent of GDP annually even before acceding to the EU. They thus prepared for the high degree of continuously amplified competition in the global scientific research domain. While in our case scientific research benefited of 1 per cent of GDP at most. Moreover, Romanian research did not benefit from a fully applied national strategy. Here, as in the case of the education system, the possible positive initiatives were and are undermined by political disagreements taking place even within ruling coalitions. That is precisely why a continuous dissemination of creative energies is being registered. And why many of the Romanian inventions are left in the drawers or are sold to foreign companies. For years thousands of patents have been sold abroad, put to good use there and then imported in Romania, at exorbitant prices, under the form of new technologies that were the result of the ideas of our researchers who have meanwhile stopped being ours because most of them emigrated. Some Romanian politicians take comfort in the illusion that this massive Romanian scientific emigration represents an advantage in the sense that this symbol of a superior level of Romanian competency allegedly attracts foreign “strategic investors.” The current reality makes the aforementioned illusion increasingly ridiculous. But even if the alleged advantage were real, it would generate the question: can a possible advantage of this sort make up for the incomparably bigger and serious disadvantage that the Romanian brain drain represents? When will our political factors realize the truth that for a state that aspires to modernization, like the Romanian state, exporting wheat or exporting the mostly young specialists’ power of scientific creation is not the same?! As prisoners of such contradictions, Romanian officials have resorted to privatizing some research units. Taking place under the pressure of corruptible commissions, the said privatization process made the problem of Romanian scientific research even worse. Because many of the new owners bought the research institutes for real-estate purposes. A significant part of the institutes thus privatized became simple commercial companies having nothing to do with scientific research. Thus, scientific researches in the pharmaceutical drugs, sanitary instruments, chemical fertilizers, white goods and many other domains ended up bankrupt or significantly diminished. What could be saved was saved thanks to a national conference held by university rectors that decided that research institutes that are part of national patrimony should become part of tertiary education institutes. A main factor for developing inter-European cooperation could thus have been constituted. But it wasn’t to be! The ample contradictions between political parties undermined and continue to undermine such positive projects. How? Through the ridiculous funding of the education and scientific research systems too.