Currently, the main argument to politically defend the investment in science and technology and/or criticizing budget cuts in this area is very direct and easy to understand: investment in research will make our companies more competitive, it will help us get out of the crisis more quickly in which we are and will facilitate the necessary transformation of our obsolete production system.
But in my opinion this very utilitarian argument is a poisoned dart that is turning against the cause it defends. Not because there is not a close relationship between research and economic and social development, which there is and is very powerful (just look at the close correlation between investment in R&D and the degree of development of countries, aquí), but because it does not even take place in the short term, nor limited to specific territorial borders and not even in the direction in which we might expect beforehand. That is why it is really very easy to lower it on the priority scale and leave it for better times. Because let’s not forget that public managers are assessed by the immediate control of the public deficit; increase income or decrease expenses and investment in research does not help either in the first direction, nor in the second.
On the other hand, if the justification for investment in R&D is fundamentally economic, it is not illogical for public authoritiesto insist on a greater degree of commitment of the private initiative in its financing . In this way, and more and more often, we see how many heads of research centers are asked the impossible mission of covering their financial hole, caused by budget cuts, with private investments that never arrive in sufficient quantity and that end up being resolved with cost adjustments, dismissals of researchers and growing precariousness of the research carried out. And this happens because most of the time it is forgotten that companies invest with economic profitability criteria, which hardly match research projects that if something characterizes them is their high degree of uncertainty and associated risk. This does not imply, far from it, that the private financing of research does not have a path in Europe and in Spain, which it has and a great one. But to think that it will arrive to attend to emergencies and plug holes is a great foolishness and much more so in the situation of economic crisis in which we are submerged.
On the other hand, postulating science as a mere instrument at the service of competitiveness inevitably leads to the sacralization of the market as a “totem” that discriminates against “good science”, the that has greater application potential, of the “bad or useless”. What, seen from history, shows a clear lack of perspective; The most disruptive business innovations that have changed the course of the markets do not occur in isolation, but are the result of the interaction of numerous nodes in a global system in which many different disciplines come together and whose main and most powerful motivation is it is curiosity and the advancement of knowledge and not so much economic profit.
In my opinion, as a country, the reasons for investing in science and technology must be based on deep roots of long-term social profitability that go beyond mere business competitiveness and take into account progress of culture and knowledge, the development of people and the consolidation of our own civilization. And if this were really so, the high political cost -important and numerous collective criticisms and not from interested groups- would prevent the excuses to which public leaders have accustomed us to evade their own responsibility.