Science under siege


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When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say”

Tyrion III, A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin

In the first days since Trump took office as 45th president of the United States, he’s already made several decisions through executive order (which are equivalent to laws). These actions are consequent with the ideologies sustained all throughout his campaign, which were considered controversial.

Mapping his campaign and economic interests, his most expected move in scientific policy is related to the views on climate change. Giving to a climate change denier the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was the clue of what was coming shortly.

Promises that are not fulfilled are common in politicians, but Trump already is up to the height of the expectations, in the worst of ways. The measure that forbids science-based agencies to propagate news in social media before been vetted generated already great outrage in the scientific community. Within this also came the instruction to shut down EPA climate web page.

Early response to this measure from the affected agencies was creating alternative Twitter accounts to go rogue against it. Echoes in other ways can be observed during these last days, biologist Michael Eisen, co-founder of PLOS (a known advocate for open access knowledge), is setting up his campaign to go for a senator position in 2018.

According to his ultra-nationalist speech, the most transversal motion from Trump was the one taken during the last week in which another executive order instructed entry barrier to refugees and citizens from seven Muslim countries. As transversal this measure was, it reverberated within scientific community immediately not only impacting researchers but their families. Fortunately, backfire was taken from judicial power in less than 48 hours after its dictation, declaring it unlawful and opening a discrepancy period over its execution.

Considering the implications, actions to manifest against anti-science determinations are already organized, having as a core the march for science to be realized in Washington D.C. in April 22nd, 2017 with satellite events across the U.S. and other places around the globe.

Herewith in few days of the new US administration, we have been able to observe the political relevance and impact of science in society not only in local spaces but globally.

Having scientific based institution advising decisions most of the times will go against political and economic interests. The self-correcting nature of science is what can guarantee to the citizen’s advancement towards common good despite these interests, and gag them is notoriously a sign of lack of transparency.

International collaboration is one of the values that science has in its endeavor to reach this common good, and hurdles to take off global issues (such as global warming effects or public health) are always present in shape of politically based boundaries. Due to this, a global collective reaction in the short term can be expected, and clearly, if you´re a scientist, you´re welcome to contribute.

My thoughts in the face of the developing events are that scientists inherently are becoming more conscientious of themselves as active social actors that not only generates discoveries, but that have an active and connected voice in societal evolution.

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About Sergio Diez de Medina Roldán

I´m a Biochemist graduated at Universidad de Chile. Master in Technology Management at Universidad de Talca, and Ph.D. in Biotechnology at Andrés Bello University. I have worked in Plant Biotechnology, mainly on issues related to GM crops coexistence with native species, molecular markers applied to commercially relevant traits and technology transfer associated with biotechnology. I´m a founder member of Journal of Technology Management and Innovation. Currently, I work at Universidad Arturo Prat in a research project to address plastic waste issues using microorganisms. Also, I´m a Taekwondo instructor, 3rd Dan Black Belt.

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