Pedro Duque: The Minister Who Never Stepped on the Moon | Science

Just a year ago, the Minister of Science, Pedro Duque, asked citizens, in an interview with EL PAÍS, a “margin of confidence” to demonstrate the benefits of their policies. The former astronaut, who was appointed on June 6, 2018, did not have a margin of confidence from the prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, who dismissed him on Saturday along with other ministers. Duque leaves behind a 60% increase in investment in science thanks to EU funds and new innovation programs for large strategic business initiatives. He will be replaced by Diana Morante, the current mayor of Gandia (75,000 inhabitants, Valencia).

A Spanish aerospace engineer twice took over the science ministry with meager budgets inherited from CEO Mariano Rajoy, which has been extended until 2020 due to political instability in Spain. His appointment led to “hope” in the scientific community, as shown Jorge Barreiro, CEO of Cotec . Foundation, dedicated to promoting innovation. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the budget that he will not eventually run out of. I would say it was a little half of it. His year was definitely this: the year he could start doing politics, because he was able to get a budget. I would say it’s like astronaut Michael Collins: He got to the moon, but he didn’t step on it,” says Barreiro.

Duque found himself in 2018 with a public science system in shambles after a 30% budget cut in the past decade, with an extremely aging workforce and precarious contracts for the youngest. “The conditions of scientists are worse than they were in 2010,” the minister admitted a year ago. Last October his department proposed a Science and Innovation CharterWith the aim of ensuring increased funding and stability for public sector scientists. This year, his team focused on reforming the law of science, while criticizing a draft moving forward “against scientific excellence”, according to the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE), which includes 84 organizations.

“The research situation in Spain is still bad,” says physicist Perla Wannon, president of the Federation of Scientific Societies in Spain.

Physicist Birla Wannon, president of COSCE, acknowledges Duque’s “impulse” for the science charter and “necessary” legal reform for the system, but it is very important. He notes that “despite the increase in the budget, it has not done so adequately, and the research situation in Spain remains poor.” The Spanish government as a whole, with Rajoy still expanding budgets, invested some 2,658 million euros in scientific research, development and innovation last year, nearly 42% less than it was in 2009, according to the same Ministry of Science data.

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Duque launched in 2019 a package of urgent measures to end the bureaucracy that has swept Spanish science since 2014, when the PP government clamped down on spending on public laboratories, with endless paperwork to procure most essential materials. Wahnón regrets that these 2019 measures “were not as effective as they were supposed to” and excessive “bureaucratic and legal hurdles” persist. The head of COSCE denounces the “extremely severe degree of gravity and temporary nature of the sector” and requests “a reconfiguration of the scientific system, so that it is treated as a matter of state”.

Chairs for Biochemistry Maria Blasco Allianza total, which includes more than 50 leading Spanish research centers. In his opinion, Pedro Duque “always listened” to their demands and advocated for the Severo Ochoa Centers and María de Maeztu Units Program, an initiative to create outstanding institutions in Spain. “It is essential that it not only be supported, but expanded. Blasco, who is also director of the National Cancer Research Center in Madrid, warns of administrative obstacles to science, and they must be addressed to stop talent loss.

Pedro Duque tends to joke that more than half of Spaniards believe he traveled to the Moon, when in fact he was in space for nine days in 1998 and another 10 days in 2003, at an altitude of only 400 km. Now he will not step on the moon for the largest science budgets in the history of Spain. But this time he stayed closer.

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Aileen Morales

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