Eloísa del Pino: “CSIC’s dusty structure” | science


Eloisa del Pino (Burgo de Osma, Syria, 53 years old) is an expert on claustrophobia, a phenomenon to which she devoted her doctoral dissertation in political science. An office flop is someone who hates running the state – he believes that nothing works or that all officials are lazy – despite the fact that his recent experiences with it have been positive. According to Del Pino’s studies, which included a survey of more than 8,000 people, one in four Spaniards is a desk. Why? “The most explanatory variable is that people who are more insecure in general tend to be more office-phobic,” is what makes this doctor a politics and law graduate, the daughter of a country school teacher and a merchant.

Since June, del Pino has served as the new president of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), Spain’s largest scientific body with more than 13,000 researchers in 124 institutes across the country, including the three national centers for oceanography, mining and food. which they joined in 2020 to avoid a total meltdown.

Del Pino is the second woman to head this organization since its inception in 1939—its predecessor, Rosa Menendez, was abruptly dismissed by the government—and the first woman to be a “sociologist,” as she identifies herself.

A CSIC scholar since 2007, she knows management inside and out. She was President of the Council of Ministers of the former Minister of Health María Luisa Carcedo between 2018 and 2020 and in charge of monitoring the quality of Spanish public services between 2009 and 2011. This interview with EL PAÍS is the first she has granted after reaching the Presidency of the Council.

Requests. What prompted you to study public policy?

Reply. Public policies are the mechanism by which power is distributed in society. By deciding whether or not to get public education or universal healthcare, you give or take away opportunities for people. It is essential to understand the mechanisms by which these decisions are made. Knowing how much ideology, administrative feasibility, economic cost, and public opinion influence them, and how much room science has in making those decisions. I have always focused on the two things that matter most to me: health and social policy. I study how the systems of citizen care, dependency care and health care are organized in our country and in other countries around us to understand how we do this.

s. And how do we do that?

R was found. In some things, very good. We have put in place a social care system very quickly, with very strong health care, but it has to be revised so that it does not become obsolete. We have put in place a checkered, but decent, care and education system. All of these things either strengthen them or stop serving them, because society is changing. Previously there was a health care system for acute diseases because the population was younger. Now we need a system for the chronically ill because we have the nerve to live so many years.

s. Arrived at CSIC in June. What has happened since then and what plans do you have for the organization?

s. My task was to do a deep and thorough analysis of the CSIC, which we have been doing for the past six months. We also launched some projects because we didn’t want to feel paralyzed. We’ve seen all the programs and removed the ones that didn’t work. We have identified the things we need that are not covered in the budget. For example, there are a lot of young pre-doctoral researchers who have been awarded grants from public or private institutions, but lack the money to be able to reside abroad. Well, we’ll make a new call for this.

s. What is the biggest problem CSIC faces?

R was found. You have already visited 72 of our 124 institutes. We’ve seen the same problem in all of them: We have too much scientific bureaucracy. In CSIC, there is a bottleneck and the way to solve it is to strengthen its structure, which is in a mess. It’s nothing unique to CSIC, and many college deans tell me the same. We are fortunate that we are living through an amazing moment in terms of new places for scientists and budgets. It’s good to go to institutes and see the corridors full of young people. But we will die of success. We have a lot of places, a lot of money for research projects, but we won’t be able to manage everything. Moreover, we can raise more money if we succeed better. A few years ago, a CSIC director managed €150,000 in funds annually. Now it is more than doubled. We get all this money, but the manager can’t keep up. We don’t have enough managers.

s. The problem of bureaucracy is not new. The Science Act of 2011 tried to stop it, as does this government’s new Science Act. However, scientists keep complaining that they can’t even buy distilled water because of routine. What can you tell them?

R was found. We’re in it seriously. The Science Code has already made some change. I trust they were taken seriously. In new research projects there will already be a simplified justification of expenditures. Not that there is less strictness, but only some projects will be reviewed to see if they comply, not all yet. we will do our best.

s. Spain has historic science budgets thanks to recovery funds from the European Union. Now they will finish. Is there a risk of stopping?

R was found. The Science Act states that public investment in R+D+i in 2030 will be 1.25% of GDP. That’s the commitment, but we’re still a long way off, at 0.58%. If European money is withdrawn, which allowed us to modernize the infrastructure, bring new blood into the institutions, in short, the joy of life, we will be able to hold out for a few years. Even if there are no European funds for recovery, if the national science budget continues and we improve until 2030, we will be fine. Another part is that companies need to try harder. If all of that happens, we can move on.

Eloísa del Pino, before the interview.
Eloísa del Pino, before the interview.Alvaro Garcia

s. Just when I became president, the board suffered a serious computer attack. Is it fixed?

R was found. We’re on it. Research institutions are usually very open in access. In addition, the CSIC computers were not up to date. Researchers come from many countries and our scientists also travel abroad. You have to be a bit flexible because we can’t strictly adhere to administrative protocols, but at the same time we have to be careful. In addition, we are understaffed. We have fewer technicians compared to institutes, and less than 124 in the entire CSIC.

s. How many managers do you expect to hire?

R was found. We have set up a central office to assist the directors of each institute. We will restructure the management so that there are more employees and they have more incentives. But this should go hand in hand with reducing red tape. We want to hire more administrative staff, but we have to negotiate with the Ministry of Finance about this.

s. Can CSIC still not contract without Treasury permission?

R was found. So we need a management contract. We’re finishing writing it. Our idea is to be approved by the Ministry of Science and the Ministry of Finance in 2023.

s. who will allow?

R was found. That CSIC commit to certain strategic objectives and in return the Department of Finance give us stable, predictable, multi-year funding. The same will also happen with employee positions.

s. Will you be the first agency to have this contract?

R was found. No, the State Gazette already has it. Evaluation and Quality Agency, where I also worked. In fact, it is difficult to agree to it because in times of crisis it is difficult to obtain multi-year funding. In our case, this deadline is until the end of 2025.

s. And what will the new CSIC look like for 2025?

R was found. Much stronger. But they have to give us money to implement all the recruitment, talent and equality plans. We will be more productive and we will raise more money. The transfers that the state makes to us, which are 60% of our budget, must be matched by what public funding for science must grow.

s. Traditionally, the social sciences have been relegated to CSIC. Do you feel that “pure” scientists look down on you?

R was found. I am the second president of CSIC in its entire history and the first woman from the social sciences. Alejandro Nieto was there, but he was a lawyer, not a sociologist. I knew there would be a reaction from many scientists against it, and that’s when I coined the phrase I use the most: We do our job, which is to run the most important scientific institution in our country, the fourth in Europe and the seventh. In the world. I’ve always seen myself as a scientist and don’t have any kind of complex. I don’t study cancer or the brain, but I understand that others would never deal with the electoral system or other social science topics. There is little social science in CSIC. There are enormous problems like inequality and CSIC does not have enough researchers to study and understand it from all its perspectives. However, it has been done on cancer since many.

s. Within the council there is gender inequality. Only 23% of the highest-ranking officials are women. its enough?

R was found. Obviously not. We already knew the scissor graph problem, namely, that the same or more women start the scientific career, but only a minority reach the highest ranks. But we are now recruiting fewer women at the initial stages, for example at the pre-doctoral research stage. We at CSIC have launched an in-depth analysis to explain the factors causing the problem. Some of them will correct themselves over time, but not most.

s. 2022 is the year of Cajal, the Nobel laureate in 1906. Other research councils similar to CSIC, such as CNRS in France or Max Planck in Germany, have dozens of Nobel laureates. When will there be a Nobel Prize winner in CSIC?

R was found. On that day, we had a meeting of the principals at CSIC and I told them that I hope we will get a Nobel Prize soon. I don’t care if you’re president or not. I was recently reading an article about the latest nuclear fusion achievement in the United States. What is remarkable about it is that it is a project that has been implemented for 60 years. This is a long distance race. At CSIC we have very good researchers and some of them deserve to be close to the Nobel. In this we discovered a problem. If we look at the amount of European money for scientific projects that we have won, we are on a level with Max Planck or CNRS. But if you analyze the most popular individual scholarships in Europe, ERC, we are much worse off. This must be corrected. We ask for a few of these scholarships that reward the individual path, being annoying and being on the frontier of knowledge. Researchers should be encouraged to apply more and not give up. In addition, we will launch a program to bring scientists who have won a Nobel Prize or a Fields Medal to spend a few years with us at CSIC, taking us a little bit to those frontiers in different areas and also explaining what they did to get your rewards.

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