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By Dr. M. Sommer
The time has come to democratize scientific knowledge to enrich the heritage of society, as a path towards sustainable development. The Aarhus Convention (UN, 1998) establishes the basic norms for the promotion of citizens' participation in environmental matters and gives them the possibility of expressing their opinion on decisions that affect the planet.
The time has come to democratize scientific knowledge to enrich the heritage of society, as a path towards sustainable development.
Eleven years ago, at the UN Earth Summit in Rio, 178 governments pledged that every individual should have access to information about the environment, should be able to participate in the environmental legislative process, and should be able to take legal action on ecological issues. . These rights, included in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, were considered the key to transforming our societies into democracies of environmentally sustainable development.
The Aarhus Convention (UN, 1998) establishes the basic norms for the promotion of citizens' participation in environmental matters and gives them the possibility of expressing their opinion on decisions that affect the planet.
Innovation is a complex process interrelated with factors such as the strength of the knowledge base, institutional arrangements, the qualification of the workforce, the openness of the economy, and a global ability to incorporate improvements achieved in the country or sectors.
In this complicated beginning of the 21st century, the gap is widening between the most benefited sectors and those who cannot satisfy their basic needs, it is an unequivocal sign of a devastating regressive process. To be silent in times of social injustice is to become accomplices of the system because, above all, this crazy neoliberal race imposed by the single thought and the power groups that encourage it has no future.
In the framework of technological and commercial globalization, the state of crisis has also become universal, especially for the communities of developing countries, due to their historical structural fragility. One of the paradoxes of the matter is that the economically poor countries are the richest in natural resources and cultural diversity. The solution to so many problems must be based on the application of several ideas: equal opportunities in the commercial field, environmental protection, social equity, and access to scientific and technological knowledge under fair conditions. Today everyone talks about sustainable development, but very few understand its scope, in terms of fundamental structural changes that would have to be imposed to make it a reality.
Since the beginning of mankind there has been a close relationship between natural elements - whether they are alive or not, whether they are considered "useful" or not. But today these interrelationships have acquired a degree of complexity that makes it very difficult to understand the problems derived from them. You have to make quick and courageous decisions. They must also be resourceful and innovative. But, if we talk about a goal where communities rebel against marginalization and lack of equity, and work for change, we cannot ignore the use of the main tool to achieve it. We refer to "KNOWLEDGE", that wealth of information, experiences and ideas capable of making us understand the fabric of reality.
At present, the production of consumer goods is no longer so important - it represents an increasingly smaller portion of the gross domestic product of developed countries, a new segment has emerged with the information revolution "THE KNOWLEDGE INDUSTRY". Today there is software for accounting systems, to manage payroll, to make appointments in a hospital, to navigate by satellite in cities, etc. It is the reflection of this new knowledge industry, which in itself will not replace primary activities, but which will be - without a doubt - increasingly important in the economy.
A knowledge that must be shared by all peoples if we want to talk about equity. The quality of life of people depends more and more on scientific and technological knowledge, access to it has become one of the pillars of this idealized society. Scientific dissemination should promote the transformation of society, in times where sustainable development is presented as the only logical and coherent option. Success will be achieved when the bridge between research and the population is built; essential step for science to become part of culture.
Until recently science seemed unquestionable and the stereotype of a man in a white coat, symbolized knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. What he said, did and produced could be trusted even to the Bomb. Add pesticides, Agent Orange, global warming etc. The result today is mistrust in science and new technologies. However, now that the majority of the world lives in the technological age, or as many call it, the risk society, public opinion and politicians increasingly need to turn to science for answers and advice. As long as we do not have clear, precise, updated and adjusted concepts to the time, it will not be possible to have a good orientation and therefore neither North nor safe harbor will be achieved.
Modern man has broken all ties with nature without respecting the principles of the natural order, thus reaching such a state of affairs where the point of return becomes increasingly difficult. For the search for that perfection of which the ancients spoke, man must restore the ties that unite him with physical nature and with the institutional environment, enriched by spiritual and cultural tradition. We live in a time of divorce, of rupture with God, of disunity of people, everything has become fungible, and that universal fungibility is undoubtedly what has been called "the desert of man." Man then does not embrace nature, rather he does not fertilize it, it sterilizes it. The absolute return to nature without more is a chimera, but equally disastrous is the excessive separation of it. In effect, we must find the balance provided by respect for the physical natural order and adjustment to the moral natural order. St. Thomas teaches that man is sociable by nature, this means that we always inexorably need others. In the same way, modern man must stop to observe his surroundings to understand the magnitude of the irreversible damage that he is causing to his neighbor, nature.
The natural order invites us to adapt to its reality, to respect it as a condition of our own individual fulfillment. We can accept or reject this order in whole or in part: this constitutes our fundamental ethical attitude; to insert ourselves or not in this order, with the inevitable consequence for us, in each case, of realizing ourselves, being more of our being, or definitely atomizing ourselves to the extent that we do not respect that order. We still possess the sword of the word, of the cry, of the denunciation and of the alternative proposal for another more just and united world.
Invariably this causes difficulties and one of the most important is that scientific opinion rarely evolves as quickly as political crises, each new problem raises a new set of questions.
Science advances and society has to be aware that only through science can we progress and survive, for example, from an economic and environmental point of view. The Chernobyl disaster, the mad cows and the dioxin alarm in Belgium turned the debate about science and society into something very different from what it was 25 or 30 years ago, and undermine acceptance of the new technology.
We need to rethink the dynamics between science and citizens in a democracy.
We need to find out if we need regulatory elements at certain levels with regard to controversial issues, for example the manufacture of genetically modified organisms or climate change.
We need to move from philosophical debate to action that can be applied every day. The worst approach is to sit still and do nothing. Citizens should be able to participate in scientific debates that are relevant to their lives, science should better respond to social needs and that this can be achieved without jeopardizing scientific quality. Increasingly citizens and stakeholders should be closely associated with decisions that affect them, and demand that political priorities reflect their main concerns. Consequently, the relations between science and government are a key issue that the World must face in order to take full advantage of the immense opportunities created by the establishment of the economy and the knowledge society, recover the sense of ownership and common purpose among its citizens, and reduce - both internally and internationally the potential for disputes and conflicts.
It is not an easy task to motivate the public to take an interest in science. Perhaps because the high technology that surrounds us today in our homes, at work or in recreation, we can fully enjoy it, without having to understand beyond the minimum to make it operational. But that must change. The importance of applied scientific knowledge has reached such a dimension that it makes a greater involvement of people essential in its evolution. Carrying out the work of disseminating correctly is not an easy task due to the many difficulties that must be overcome.
We enter the civilization of knowledge. It is having an increasing impact on the development and prosperity of peoples, it is evident that the macroeconomic impact of the generation of knowledge depends on the dissemination of information about innovation, that the use of new technologies is extended and that traditional sectors adopt them. Research and development must fit into a framework of values to produce benefits, this will help to strengthen the democratic functioning of nations because it raises the educational level of their people. Scientific development will contribute to socioeconomic development. What science really needs is public understanding in the modern sense, that is, dialogue and scientific advice, which depends on interaction with the public, as in democracy, where politics must be understood.
Science must be brought closer to citizens, take to the streets, go to hospitals and, in all places, it must ask. Dialogue must be built around everyday issues and fears. When people perceive that something is important to them, they want to learn it, as demonstrated when populations suffered from floods and climate change last year and this year, all over the world. Although there are excellent popularizers, highly respected in the scientific world, it is also true that academic secrecy continues to be a great obstacle to the cognitive opening of science to society.
Scientists are now slowly realizing that their habit of working in an ivory tower, and practically ignoring what is going on around them, should gradually change. What remains lacking in most cases are the skills necessary to adapt a journalist's mental approach.
In a knowledge society, democracy requires that citizens have a certain basic scientific and technical culture. Its acquisition and updating have become as essential as literacy or calculation learning. It has a growing impact on the development and prosperity of peoples. However, apart from this general knowledge, developing countries must have a group of scientists that allow them to guarantee socio-economic development. But to educate you have to invest. And while the planned stages of education are being carried out, it is essential to generate in the countries, the necessary conditions of the labor market, research and permanent training, to retain the best professionals. Obviously, this is not happening in developing countries. On the contrary, investments in education are far from the desired levels.
The situation is much more serious if we consider investment in scientific and technological research, which is ultimately responsible for generating applied knowledge. If the countries are not capable of generating products locally, they must be acquired in the international market, assuming their high costs. Science without entrepreneurship is like a sports car without wheels, attractive but going nowhere. Innovation only really benefits society when research is searching for markets. The lag between the rapidly changing world of science and technology and the relatively slow reactions of policy makers in analyzing the importance of these new developments has disastrous consequences.
Too often the business community fails to understand the science behind new research, while scientists have little idea of how to start and run a business.
It is increasingly evident that the macroeconomic impact of knowledge generation depends on the dissemination of information about innovation, the spread of the use of new technologies and the adoption of traditional sectors. The challenge for the next generation is how to increase the speed at which research becomes the technology of the future and contributes to increasing productivity and competitiveness in the world. The wealth of nations is no longer in the production of consumer goods, but in the knowledge and added value of activities.
The real question posed to us is… where will we go as a result of this process? Here and now we must raise the banner of material rationality, against which we must rally. We not only comfort ourselves to a new social system, but also to new structures of knowledge, in which society and science will not be able to continue being divorced and we will return to the singular epistemology in pursuit of the knowledge used prior to the creation of the economy- capitalist world.
If we begin to walk this path, both in terms of the social system in which we live and in terms of the structures of knowledge that we use to interpret it, we need to be very aware that we are facing a beginning, not, in any way, before an end. The beginnings are uncertain, bold and difficult, but they offer promise, which is the best.
* Dr. Sommer