Researchers thought peace in Colombia would mean more science funding. They were wrong
Source: Science Magazine
Wearing lab coats and hoisting placards with slogans such as "A country without science is a country without a future," hundreds of scientists poured into plazas in cities across Colombia on 24 August. Their beef: a proposed 42% cut to the 2018 budget of Colciencias, the nation's science ministry in Bogotá, which doles out research grants and supports graduate students. Cutting science "shows a lack of vision and understanding," fumes Juan Posada, an ecologist at El Rosario University in Bogotá.
Posada and many colleagues had hoped 2018 would usher in a new era for science in Colombia. Earlier this year, the guerrilla fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia demobilized after 52 years of war with the state, under a peace deal negotiated by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The end of the war offered a chance for biologists to study areas once occupied by rebel groups. And for all scientists, it seemed to promise new investment. During the long conflict, Colombia had few resources left over for science; in 2015, for example, it spent a minuscule 0.24% of its gross domestic product on R&D, according to Colciencias. Santos seemed poised to change that, dubbing innovation a "locomotive" that would drive Colombia's economy in the postconflict era.
The 2018 budget proposal reveals "a deep disconnect" between the government's rhetoric and reality, says Diego Torres, a nuclear physicist at the National University of Colombia's Bogotá campus. Colciencias's budget increased during Santos's early years in office, from 243 billion pesos in 2010 ($128 million) to a high of 430 billion pesos in 2013 ($230 million). But it is set for a precipitous drop next year. The government's 2018 proposal, released on 28 July, would slash Colciencias's funds from 379 billion pesos ($128 million) in 2017 to 221 billion pesos ($75 million) in 2018. "It's going from bad to really bad," Posada says.