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The European Commission has boosted funding levels. Its Directorate General for Research is in the midst of the five-year Sixth Framework, which runs until 2006 and is worth €17.5 billion a 17% jump from 1997-2001. But critics contend that E.U. funds are often doled out by bureaucrats who prioritize social and geographic factors over science. The E.U. claims to have reformed its procedures, but the running joke among funding applicants is still that a Portuguese on the team will lock in money bonus points if there's a female scientist on board. Such tales typify the Brussels bureaucracy, laments computational scientist Peter Sloot of the University of Amsterdam: "There is a strong administrative and management culture, rather than a scientific culture, in the higher regions of the E.U."
The good news is that such gripes are finally getting through in some European capitals. After a year in which researchers slammed it for putting key funding on hold, the Irish government has put a new emphasis on science, especially the kind that can benefit the rest of the economy. The 2004 government budget includes new tax relief for companies that invest in R and D. It also boosts funding for the state-backed Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) by 62%, in a move meant to speed construction of a solid scientific-knowledge base and make Ireland more attractive to firms in high-value sectors like biotechnology. SFI will plow €400 million into research over the next three years, including millions for fields such as mathematics and earth science, which are often neglected in favor of more obviously commercial sectors. "We want to make Ireland a place that's not only friendly to [an error occurred while processing this directive]scientists, but science-friendly," says William Harris, SFI'S director general. The focus and the funds are paying off. Last month, SFI lured home respected Irish-born geneticist John Atkins. He'll use his €3.2 million package to launch a lab in Cork, forming a transatlantic partnership with his ongoing work at the University of Utah. "I'm delighted to see the increase in funds for science," Atkins says. "It's an enormous improvement from how things used to be in Ireland."
Whenever astronomer sandra savaglio thinks about returning to Italy, her memory of October 2002 reminds her why she's still in the U.S. Researchers often retain ties with their home institutions in Europe, so when Savaglio moved to Johns Hopkins University in 2001 she kept her collaboration with colleagues at the Rome Observatory. Her work focuses on gamma-ray bursts, massive energy explosions believed to occur when a giant star dies. In the fall of 2002, "I was working very hard, and things were looking very interesting," Savaglio says. So interesting, in fact, that the data caught the eye of her principal investigator in Rome. "He said, 'This is interesting, but let's be clear: if you get something, and we publish, I'll get the first name,'" Savaglio recalls. "We didn't even know what the final results would be, and he was already thinking of who would be first author."
Authorship can make a researcher's career, and Savaglio cites such hierarchical attitudes in research credit as well as in everyday office politics as a key factor in her decision to stay in the U.S. for now. Still, she harbors no ill will toward her colleague in Rome: "That's just the system. If you're in the system, you do what you have to do to survive. Someone probably did the same thing to him. The culture is the main problem. It has always been like this."