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Science Fraternity of Argentina Worried About the New President-Elect Javier Milei

Milei and other campaigners of his party, La Libertad Avanza, pledged to shut down CONICET, Argentina's main science agency.

From promising the elimination of the science ministry to disbanding the country's premier science agency to declare climate change a hoax, Argentina's new president, Javier Milei, has enough to irk the country's science community. On November 19, Milei turned victorious in the second round of the election, winning 56% of the votes. The libertarian candidate is known for his far-right populist style of politicking. Milei is set to take office on December 10. 

Milei's victory has deeply worried the science fraternity of Argentina, perceiving that science and research in the country may plummet during his regime. Milei and other campaigners of his party La Libertad Avanza (which translates as 'Liberty Advances' in English) pledged to shut down CONICET (National Scientific and Technical Research Council), which is the main science agency of Argentina, with the other possibility of privatising it. Moreover, there have been declarations about eliminating the health, science and environment ministries. 

It will not be an exaggeration to say that CONICET holds the key to science research in the country by funding around 12,000 researchers across 300 institutions in Argentina, having a formidable annual budget of around USD 400 million, as Martin De Ambrosio and Fermin Koop wrote in an article in Nature

As Argentina's most prominent science institute, the proposal of its disbanding creates sparks among the researchers. Ahead of the election, directors of 16 research institutions of CONICET published a joint statement saying cancelling it will not help make a better country. In fact, many of the scientists campaigned against Milei, along with demonstrations against his policies. 

It's not only inside Argentina. Researchers from outside also opposed Milei's proposals before the election. The Inter-American Network of Academies of Sciences, a network of researchers that has members from countries including Canada, the USA, Argentina and Chile, published a document saying that CONICET's research has solutions to the problems the country is reeling under. The document stated that science is an investment rather than an expenditure (the document's English translation is taken from Ambrosio & Koop's Nature article).

Milei, A Climate Denier

Milei, an admirer of former US president Donald Trump, termed 'climate change' as a socialist hoax and promised to take a chainsaw to social programs. When the entire world witnessed the hottest year in the past 125,000 years, and everywhere, climate change is discussed, Milei's statement is an obvious point to stir concern, especially in the science community. 

Matilde Rusticucci, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Buenos Aires, and who since 2004 has been a co-author of the global climate assessments published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a statement to Ambrosio & Koop's article, said, "His position is typical of a denier. Milei is denying the value of science, denying the value of the environment, and denying climate change. His government will be a massive setback for the scientific community, for all the advances that are being made, which require a lot of effort." 

Do we remember Jair Bolsonaro, the former Brazilian president? 

Bolsonaro also had a similar outlook towards climate change, and science researchers and researchers in Brazil and elsewhere also reacted worryingly. Termed as a climate denier by the experts, it was Bolsonaro's regime under which the Amazon forest had to suffer unprecedented losses. The question arises here: Will Milei be the second Bolsonaro in Latin America?

CONICET's Closure Will Result in Brain Drain: Experts

Milei's triumph "is not good news for science, public education, universities, culture, the environment and human rights in Argentina," said Alberto Kornblihtt in a statement. Kornblihtt is a molecular biologist at the University of Buenos Aires's Institute for Physiology, Molecular Biology and Neurosciences, receiving funds from CONICET. Kornblihtt warned that dismantling CONICET will result in a massive brain drain in Argentina.

In a statement to Chemistry World, an adjunct chemistry professor of La Plata National University and a CONICET member raised similar concerns when he said, "During the last weeks, I have talked to several young scientists, and they are thinking about probably moving in a different direction. In most of these cases, this new direction is leaving academia and going to the private sector. Some of them are thinking about professional development overseas."

However, Milei and his team, seeing the widespread concerns raised, appeared to have backstepped from the earlier position and said that CONICET would be reassessed and reorganised first. However, experts, scientists and researchers remain deeply worried about the state of science and climate in Argentina in Milei's regime.

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