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Bucharest
June 21, 2021
EDITORIAL

The paradox of scientific research

Two recent events, absolutely contradictory, returned to actuality the “marital status” of present-day Romania, with its organisation-related marriages and divorces that are not successive, but plainly concomitant, as the supreme expression of defying the natural order and the toughest accusation brought to all our decision makers. For example, the very day when the news came about a Romanian invention winning gold at the International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva, which featured over 700 exhibits from 45 countries, the most painful professional protest was organised in Bucharest: all the members of the National Council of Scientific Research resigned.

Why? As an accusation against the ministry of Education and Research, which severely cut the funding for a number of important research projects. Such projects were how Romania proved, for the last decades, its big potential of scientific creation, along with the incapacity of the country’s leaders to make good use of it.

 

Like in the case of the discovery of telocytes by Romanian scientist Laurentiu M. Popescu, the scientific finds of Romanian specialists are widely appreciated abroad, while being totally ignored by our rulers.Such dramatic situations amplify in time, although they should be avoided at all cost. I said it on many occasions and I must stress it once again: such dramas should be averted precisely because of the undisputable necessity – which is however ignored by our rulers – that the European destiny of Romania should be decided at home, rather than abroad. The Romanian potential of scientific creativeness is a strong argument with this respect. Especially today when, everywhere in the world, the present society is seen as a society of knowledge, so the most important projects of economic-social, cultural or national security projects are based on scientific research.

The ever more frequent international rankings made by prestigious institutions also take into consideration, as main factors, not the GDP or income per capita, but the extent and achievements of scientific research in each country. This makes research very important in times of economic progress and crucial during times of crisis, like today. Countries such as China, India, Brazil a.s.o. do not have the highest incomes per capita, but the emphasis they grant to the development of scientific research, as a national priority allowed them to become some of the strongest countries in the world.Where does Romania stand in this general effort of scientific knowledge and action? On a very high place in the world in terms of creativeness potential, but alas on a much inferior place based on how this potential is used. The remarkable potential of scientific creativeness is successively demonstrated, with the latest example being the Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva, where Romanians won more gold and silver medals than the representatives of countries with a major scientific tradition. This explains the decision made by the European Commission in 2009, to choose Romania as main participant in a strategic scientific project: the construction of the world’s most powerful laser, capable to open new roads in the amplification of nuclear security and in many industrial sectors. The Nuclear Physics Institute of Magurele (Romania) is the main scientific laboratory involved in this strategic objective of Europe, and there is a reason for this choice. Through this prestigious research institute, Romania has become, ever since 1961, the 4th state in the world (after the USA, the former USSR and Japan) that created a powerful laser. During this half of century, the Magurele institute has evolved into the exponent of a scientific tradition of international prestige.Unfortunately, each success achieved by Romania abroad opens two roads today, as I wrote earlier: one is good and the other is bad. The good one results from the fact that, recently, some private companies, such as the author of this invention that reaped gold in Geneva these days, became capable of using at least part of the Romanian research potential. But the nature of this effort makes it impossible to develop national programmes starting from these successes. Or, this is precisely how Romanian scientific research should be used, the way things go in the most developed countries of the EU, where scientific research is part of national strategic programmes. Where such programmes exist, with the rigorous and exigent support of the respective governments, they become priorities in scientific projects conducted in Europe and on other continents. Moreover, using the full scientific potential of a nation allows it to grow permanently.But in Romania things go precisely the opposite way, hence the aforementioned negative perspective. Scientific research was neglected by all Romanian governments, with the result being the chronic under-financing of the sector from the state budget. While neighbour countries allocated each year 4 pc, even 5 pc of their GDP for research, even before they were admitted to the EU, Romania rarely dedicated more than 1 pc of its GDP to this regard. Plus, our country has no coherent strategy of scientific research, nothing it could enforce at national scale. Same as in the Education sector, there were some punctual positive evolutions, promptly undermined by the acute divergences between political parties, which were manifest sometimes even within ruling coalitions.

The result was a continuous dissemination of creative energies, which kept many Romanian inventions as papers in a shelf. Even more paradoxically, some of these inventions were sold to companies abroad, where they were developed and then… they were imported to Romania at exorbitant prices, as new technologies born from the ideas of our scientists. Meanwhile, even their authors leave the country. Out of approximately 100,000 scientists that existed in Romania in the early 1990’s, only fewer than 10,000 remained now, and the figure is diminishing each year, as the most brilliant of these young specialists emigrate in search of better opportunities.Some rulers arrogantly say that the Romanian scientific emigration represents a benefit, because this symbol of superior competence attracts strategic foreign investors to Romania. But can this possible benefit replace the incomparably worse and more serious bad effect represented by the hemorrhage of Romanian intellectual elites? A state that aspires to rapid modernisation should not treat the same way the export of unskilled labour and the export of the scientific creativeness of young scientists. The costly import of medicines and the surgeries performed abroad demonstrate the actuality of the slogan used by the Liberals between the two world-wars, which proclaimed that the only way we can modernise the country is “on our own.”

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