Inside Croatia’s science: a rare glimpse into most debated issues
Croatia is becoming the 28th member of the EU on 1st July 2013, yet its science sector has been awaiting reforms for years now, with little progress. Lack of political will and under-funding are keeping research from achieving its potential as a socio-economic driver.
But what is on Croatian scientists' minds - and which things get them fired up? A virtual meeting place that has over 2,200 members so far - equivalent to around 20% of the Croatian scientific workforce - with up to 180 users online at any one time, offers some clues.
Since its first post almost a decade ago, Connect::Portal has become a central place for scientific debates and news in Croatia, bringing together stakeholders - scientists, educators, communicators, journalists and policymakers - from country and its diaspora.
It works as an open forum where registered users can post short blogs, opinions and news, inviting further debate. The posts and comments are visible to everyone, while the identities of authors of those posts and the ability to comment are only available to logged-in users.
Since the first post in May 2004 it has gathered just over 4,360 posts with a total of more than 35,100 comments. Almost half of the posts have no comments (around 1,900) and only 48 posts gathered 100 or more comments.
The most commented post has almost reached 400 comments - it's about a currently raging debate on a new set of rules governing the promotion of scientists, which some have found to be scandalous, others merely a weak step towards a badly needed meritocracy in science.
The second most commented article with 285 comments posted in 2007 is about the 2nd congress of Croatian scientists from the country and abroad.
Other hotly debated topics included the rights and responsibilities of students to receive free education (from 2009 with 284 comments); a 2007 petition to protect scientists from political pressure and intimidation (279); the results of the government funded research projects in 2006 (73% of the 1,994 project applications passed; 205 comments); the need for and value of GMOs (2009; 205 comments); the funding and evaluation of domestic journals (the government funds up to 200 journals with several million Kunas a year; from 2008; 193 comments); and a 2005 news item that the then science minister's theory about the genetic origin of Croatian would enter the school curriculum.
What this seems to show is that Croatia's scientists get fired up about both global issues such as GMOs, free education and research freedoms, but also about more local issues, such as the specific rules of promotion, local science journals and local science findings of relevance to the region.