Nature, 6/27/2012

Mexican scientists have watched with dismay as their country, Latin America's second-largest economy, has slipped down the research-spending ranks in recent years. Candidates in this week's presidential election have pledged to change that.

Back in 2000, presidential candidate Vicente Fox promised to raise Mexico's gross expenditure on research and development from about 0.4% to 1% of gross domestic product (GERD per GDP, often known as research intensity). Fox won, but despite legislation meant to guarantee the increase, Mexico's GERD per GDP has remained below 0.5%. Science has barely featured in campaigns for subsequent elections, presidential or otherwise.

Now it is back with a vengeance. In presidential debates, all three leading candidates have sworn to make good on Fox's promise. “This is the very first time that I have heard the candidates make positive pronouncements about science,” says José Franco López, president of the Mexican Academy of Sciences in Mexico City. “Before, science was nowhere in their speeches. This time they are acknowledging that science and technology and innovation are engines for economic development.”

The attention to research investment comes as Mexico faces competition from other emerging economies. “Brazil has almost caught up with Mexico in GDP per capita, in less than a generation,” says Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC. “Mexicans are starting to ask why.”