Archive for June 7th, 2009

Chacon’s Science and Technology numbers: Donde estan los reales (Where is the money?)

June 7, 2009

The new Minister of Science and Technology Jesse Chacon gave some interesting numbers the other day when he announced that from now on the corporate contributions to science will be centralized and decided at FONACIT. Since Chacon has no clue as to what he is saying someone is feeding him numbers. Let’s see some of them. First, he said that Venezuela’s expenditure per capita in science and technology is the highest in the world at something like 2.86% of GDP, which I will approximate to be 3% for simplicity.

He then said that Venezuela had six thousand-plus scientists, a number that I find somewhat exaggerated, but I will believe Jesse for once and use it.

Well, if you say GDP is 200 billion US$ (it’s higher), then 3% of 200 billion US$ is 6 billion US$, which means that each of those scientists, whose publications dropped by 15% in 2008, had the Government spend 923,000 thousand dollars on them. That’s high anywhere. I remember that number at Bell Labs, the best funded research lab in the world twenty years ago was US$ 2.5 million per scientist per year. There has been inflation, but it has not been so much and these were the best scientists in the world in Physics, Chemistry, Materials and Computers.

But let’s look closer. A tenured scientist in Venezuela makes less than Bs. 100,000 a year (US$ 46,000 at the official rate of exchange). So, given that scientists say there is no money for research, we have to say like Luis Herrera: Donde estan los reales? (Where is the money?).

Because the Minister himself gave the Locti numbers for universities and said all universities received 336 million Bolivars from Locti or barely US$ 156 million, for all universities!. Given that most research in Venezuela is done at the universities, you have to wonder where the rest of the money went. IVIC I don’t believe has a budget of more than US$ 30-40 million, Intevep barely does anything, so the whole thing is quite mysterious.

But the most dangerous part is that Chacon seems to suggest that the money is not well distributed, because Universidad Central is the top beneficiary, followed by Universidad Simon Bolivar and Universidad Catolica in fourth place. The Minister then asks (In El Nacional, June 4th. page C-3) how can Simon Bolivar which does not have the diversity of laboratories that exists in other universities receive so much money?(The only one missing from the top list is Universidad de Los Andes)

Well, I don’t know the answer off the bat, but how about that at Simon Bolivar, more Professors have Ph.D.’s or do research? Or higher academic standards? Or tougher to get tenure? Just to name a few possibilities. And he also attacks Universidad Catolica wondering what the hell does that university spend Bs. 45 million (US$ 20.93 million) in science for? Maybe the Minister should have found about what that was before making statements to the press. I wonder how much the Armed Forces University gets, Chacon did not mention it, but we all know its budget was increased in 2009 as the other university’s budgets were reduced, despite the low academic evel of UNEFA.

But, of course, I bet that in the US$ 6 billion the Government included the payment for Satellite Simon Bolivar (US$ 400 million), which while rotating in orbit, it does not quite fly and nobody knows if it came with a warranty or not. Of course, that satellite was neither science nor technology. So, you wonder what other misnomers are included in Chacon’s numbers.

Spying equipment? Firewalls to filter the Internet one day?

Who knows, but clearly the former Lt. was placed there to destroy oligarchic science, the same one that on the same day, last Thursday, celebrated at Fundacion Polar, the achievements of five Venezuelan scientists*, who do research, publish and are well known internationally for their high quality work, but none of which has a clue as to where their million bucks a year is.

Clearly, the revolution has no use for them.

(*One of which is a relative of the author)