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European Scientists Protest Cuts

Declining science budgets across continent spark month of action

by Andrea Widener
October 13, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 41

Sciences en Marche protests in France against budget cuts.
Credit: Annabelle Haudry
French scientists walked and rode bikes across the country this month to protest cuts to research funding.

After years of budget cuts, scientists in the European Union are mounting protests this month to bring attention to problems caused by shrinking science funding.

The largest demonstrations are taking place in France, where several thousand researchers are riding their bikes and walking across the country to highlight reduced research funding. The Sciences en Marche campaign will culminate this Friday with a gathering in Paris.

A number of Southern European countries are holding corresponding events to draw attention to problems, such as a brain drain to Northern European countries and abroad as well as lost opportunities for technology to improve the EU economy.

Researchers from seven countries have sent a letter to the newly elected European Parliament and Jean-Claude Juncker, who will become president of the European Commission, the EU’s administrative arm, on Nov. 1. They are encouraging all scientists to sign it.

“Many European countries are suffering a hemorrhage, really. But [legislators] don’t seem to be aware of it or think much about it,” explains Amaya Moro-Martín, a Spanish astrophysicist who wrote about the cuts last week in Nature (DOI: 10.1038/514141a).

For example, basic research funding in Italy has fallen to almost zero since cuts began in 2008, says Italian physicist and blogger Francesco Sylos Labini. One result was a 90% cut in new positions for young scientists.

The budget austerity measures imposed by the EC include no protections for research, he says. “If you produce too much milk, then Europe will give you a fine,” but the EC has failed to regulate R&D funding.

Biochemist Gilles Mirambeau, who works in both France and Spain, says he hopes the convergence of European scientists against these cuts will convince lawmakers of science funding’s importance. “It is very dangerous if we cannot maintain a critical mass of people in academic research,” he says.



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