Thursday, October 6, 2011

Scientific excellence, Spanish style

Something that has always depressed me about Spanish culture is how jealousy prevents any acknowledgement of extraordinary achievements. For example, the Spanish film director Almodovar, has never won the Spanish equivalent of the Oscar, despite being the most internationally known filmmaker from Spain.

So, when the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation established a grant (named after Nobel prize winner Severo Ochoa), for the top research centers in Spain, it wasn’t a huge surprise when the most prestigious research centers in all of Europe (the Center for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona) was not selected.

When confronted about the glaring omission, the research director of the Ministry, Montserrat Torne, defended the decision by saying that (more or less) “The three selection committees were presided over by Nobel prize winners, if we question what the Nobel prize winners have decided, we might as well quit and go home”.

Strangely enough, one of the Nobel prize winners and other committee members were consultants for some of the centers that were chosen.

The thing that I’ve realized is that the quaint American standard of “avoiding the appearance of impropriety” that normally keep judges from making decisions that could be influenced by their personal interest simply does not exist here. (Dick Cheney leading George Bush’s vice-presidential search committee, which picked Dick Cheney after a long and hard search may be an exception)

I noticed this recently at my own company for a selection process, where after various groups going through a huge amount of effort to follow the process, present to the relevant committees, etc, were surprised to find several candidates that had magically made it to the next round that had never even participated in the first round. Naturally, these were pet projects of the people on the selection committee, who said that due to the fact that they knew these projects so well, they were uniquely qualified to judge their merits.

1 comment:

Ampower said...

I just discovered your blog while searching for information about excellence research centers in Spain.
I'm Spanish actually (from Ciudad Real), doing my postdoc now in Northwestern in Chicago, IL. I still have around 1 year here, but I'm already looking for positions in Spain. My boyfriend is from Holland and now we have to decide what to do next. I've been out of Spain for a while and I really want to go back. Unfortunately the situation is not very good as you have posted in some of your previous posts, but I still want to try it. I'm sure there will be more money in Holland for research, but I'll still try...
I agree with what you write here, everything good of our country is out, if you are a good actress they don't like you and if you are a good scientist still the same.
Difficult times are ahead, but I still keep on trying.
Keep posting :) it is a very interesting blog.