Op-Ed: Costs of doing science climbs in Argentina

Posted Mar 28, 2015 by Tim Sandle
Scientists in Argentina are struggling with budgets due to government tariffs which mean that most tools and reagents cost more than double their normal retail value.
File photo: Laboratory technician testing water samples
File photo: Laboratory technician testing water samples
Raising the issues of teaching and practicing science in Argentina, neuroscientist Lidia Szczupak of the University of Buenos Aires told The Scientist: "The government charges 35 percent over any payment made outside the country, and thus this amount is at the investigator’s expense."
These cost-additions were put in place four years ago as part of a new economic policy. The aim of the policy was to keep pesos within the Argentinian borders. While this may help to protect home grown and made good from exports, the impact has hit science hard in a country that is not known for developing world-leading scientific instruments of its own.
In one example, a pack of cell culture wells was said to cost $544.10 when imported; whereas the cost to a scientists working in the U.S. would be have a typical cost of $228.40.
These concerns were echoed by a second researcher, Pablo Cerdán, a plant molecular biologist at the Leloir Institute in Buenos Aires. He also told The Scientist: "With the restrictions the importers are not importing things very fast. Sometimes it takes several months to get things here. It makes our work less productive and takes much more time."
The impact of the spiraling costs is that some scientists have opted to forego certain costly or time-consuming experiments altogether. This is because the efforts for an item that is central to the project of my research are not worthwhile. This is a shame and the policy appears to be hampering research efforts within the country.
Given that Argentina has a strong history of scientific advancement in the fields of medicine, nuclear physics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, space and rocket technology, it seems that the time has come for a policy change to avoid scientific stagnation. Another concern is that the current situation could trigger a brain drain, with researchers could leave the country to work elsewhere.