This column was written for the #Science in Elections campaign, which celebrated Science Month in July, and gave columnists a space for them to reflect on the role of science in the reconstruction of Brazil. Who writes is biologist Gustavo Silva, professor and researcher at Duke University.
In the context of a lot of misinformation, it is necessary to confirm the social and political character of science. Science It is closely related to the development of society and, accordingly, to politics. From medicines to spaceships, we discover, understand and change the world through knowledge that is collectively produced. Science is not the product of the genius of wealthy individuals, but the effort of a politically organized society. Without democracy there is no science.
This constitutes an important diagnosis of current times: the denigration of science, the professionals, and the institutions that produce them are the result of the political chaos caused by inequality and the collapse of democracy. The greater the inequality and the less democracy, the more spaces opened up for denial, charlatans and corrupt people who crave money and power.
The pandemic has revealed at least three aspects of the relationship between science and politics: 1) Science has saved and continues to save thousands of lives. 2) The scientific universe is very far from the population, who are its biggest investors. 3) The ease with which political forces motivated by special interests succeed in excluding scientific discourse with disinformation campaigns.
For example, vaccines are developed, tested and improved using the scientific method. In research laboratories, scientists describe its molecular mechanisms, pharmacological principles, efficacy, and risks.
RNA vaccines have only been produced in record time because there has already been more than a decade of research on viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2. The process was already underway thanks to previous investments in knowledge generation. In the most diverse fields of health and technology, thousands of scientists dedicate their lives and careers to generating knowledge and improving the quality of life of the population. All of this requires education and investment.
Not only in Brazil, but in the world, science is carried out privately in universities and is mostly funded by public money. Countries with a national development plan realize that their growth and independence depend on scientific capabilities.
In the United States, for example, despite the 20% cut in the research and development budget proposed by then-President Donald Trump, senators agreed, in a bipartisan fashion, to a 6% increase.
Meanwhile in Brazil, investments in research have suffered consecutive cuts in the past seven years by more than 35%, eliminating national scientific training and production. Investing in science is investing in education, innovation, economic development and, ultimately, national sovereignty.
But how do we defend science and, at the same time, prevent its appropriation by interests contrary to the interests of the population, as we have seen so many times throughout history?
A possible answer lies in the development of an educational plan for scientific literacy and the active involvement of the population in the stages of knowledge production. This is it: democracy after Election Day. Scientific training takes years of investment and improvement.
The approach requires access, it requires attention, it requires belonging. It is easy to distance yourself from something that you do not welcome, do not appreciate, and in which there is no recognition. To provide solutions to complex problems, science needs to be supported by different societal experiences and expertise.
The academy needs to reformulate itself, open its doors, broaden its horizons, and learn how to communicate its importance, as well as the reinvestment received into society. In an election year, when social, moral and cultural differences are intensifying, science needs to be another ally in the fight for equality, civility and human morality.
An all-out struggle involving the scientists, leaders, and communities we must serve and who must be the greatest beneficiaries of scientific discovery. Creating new links of trust will be essential to popular support in the fight against disinformation and in the progress of society towards a more just and equal world.
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