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The Need for Science - part II

Science is the beating heart of development and technological advances. During the previous administration, science was badly wounded, but not mortally. Those times seem to be over with the new administration. However, the sentiment about science has deteriorated alongside the perception of its role in society. Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon commonly seen in countries with governments with extreme tendencies. For instance, in Venezuela, where I obtained my PhD over a decade ago, science has been deeply politicized, to the point that irrational measures are commonly taken against scientists. Sadly, these measures are taken usually for reasons not related to their work. In these days, the government, led by Hugo Chavez, has being preaching the establishment of a new scientific doctrine called “pertinent science.” According to this philosophy, science should exclusively aim for new developments, setting aside basic research. In other words, new concepts and critical reviews of the current dogmas are an unnecessary expenditure of money. Also, this philosophy implies that basic research can be done elsewhere and learned just by reading textbooks and specialized journals.

I must confess this might sound like a good idea – learning the basics from elsewhere and successfully apply it to new inventions. However, this is a very naive approach. Scientific knowledge is not a collection of trivia tips, as seen in TV shows. Conversely, a successful scientist is a professional whose main challenge is to solve problems and design new approaches to understanding the object under study. This requires a lot of training and, more importantly, experience. Not every detail of an experiment can be described in a scientific article. In fact, even the biomechanical skills of the scientist are, in many cases, the key to the success of an experiment. This means that a scientist is an artist carrying out his work, rather than an inert living encyclopedia.

Science has to be reintroduced in our society and this is a task of top priority. Why? The answer is obvious. We live in a society which uses the technology of the 21st century. However, by and large we are using the knowledge of the 20th century. It is like having a multi-core computer running Windows 3.1. Now, the question is how we leap to the new century. Fortunately, this is very simple to address. Science requires scientists defining and being consulted about sciences while policies are designed and when the subject is being taught. Again, science is not a collection of trivia or a paragraph in a textbook. Science is similar to art, in that the senses of the scientist are indispensable for its success.

This requirement is universal in many senses. The reasons are more than obvious for those who work in these fields, but not for those who belong to other niches in our societies. It is necessary for the advancement and continuation of our society for all to understand the important role science plays.