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The evils of science –

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The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is a direct consequence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in force since January 3, 1976, requires that states parties recognize the right of everyone “to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications.. However, there are significant differences between Developed and developing countries to enjoy the benefits of science.

While life in the latter is better than it was a few years ago, thanks in large part to science and technology — more vaccines, better treatments, access to communications, better crop varieties and more — for now, that right is more than Guaranteed. Not all countries have the social and economic conditions to make this possible. The vast majority of residents of poorer countries see very limited access to many of the products that science offers citizens of wealthier countries, particularly in terms of health.

There are many examples of disrespect for the right to science in this sense, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown in all its cruelty the huge differences that exist between poor and rich countries in this sense. The clearest case is a case Giving vaccinations. Despite the statements, proclamations, and requests of the various authorities, the deadlines for immunization varied greatly from state to state, depending on their fortunes. Those who could afford it vaccinated their population – or at least part of the population who wanted to – in less than a year.

The vast majority of people in poor countries find access to many of the products that science has to offer to be very limited

Other countries practically had to wait for the end of vaccination in the economic powers to start protecting their populations. It so happened that batches of vaccines were sent to poor countries that were not used in rich countries by people who were reluctant to get vaccinated. It is also paradoxical that the delay in vaccinating billions of people in the countries of the South is a factor that contributes to undermining the effectiveness of vaccination programs in developed countries, because all these people are the ideal carriers of those variants of the emerging SARS-CoV-2 that, over time, could end up overwhelming The immune barrier caused by vaccines. Delaying vaccination in poor countries would be a which could come back to haunt rich countries.

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No need to go to other countries. Differences in access to scientific products are also a reality in developed countries where part of the population does not have access to, for example, some expensive anti-cancer or other treatments. The personalized medicine that science promises may become another source of inequality, because personalized treatment, at least in some cases, will be within the reach of the few. Something similar can be expected from the prospective application of gene-editing techniques to treat diseases or even to modify certain traits in the laboratory in order to “improve” them.

Inequality in participation in scientific activity

As far as participating in science is concerned, the ideal is that all people who have the power to do so can do so if they wish. However, that is clearly not the case. Not everyone has the same opportunities to pursue science. Thus, participation in the scientific enterprise is unequal, which contradicts or limits its desirable global character. We also remember that this feature was the first of the CUDOS criteria, according to which, since everyone can contribute to science regardless of race, nationality, culture or gender, everyone should be treated as potential contributors to science.

Not everyone has the same opportunities to devote themselves to science, which limits its desirable universality

First of all, and like enjoying the benefits of science, there are also, due to economic differences, great disparities between some countries and others in the possibilities of professional engagement in science. Most of those who live in low resource regions or countries have virtually no access to scientific activity. There are two reasons for this. The most obvious is that poor countries have Little resources And they, in theory, tend to spend it on urgent needs or, at least, science is not among their spending priorities.

The second reason is that scientific practice requires a A very long exercise, for which long training periods are necessary. But in poor countries, school enrollment rates are lower and stay in the education system is relatively short. Under these conditions, it is already very difficult to start a scientific career. In fact, this is one of the elements that support the link between scientific development and the degree of freedom in a country, because to promote science in a country it is necessary to provide education for the entire population, and this education is also the basis for citizenship more critical and demanding.

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Likewise, the Even social and economic differences within the same country can be a limitation For universal access to science. In practice, boys and girls from disadvantaged socio-cultural backgrounds find it more difficult to access high levels of training and thus pursue scientific careers. This also occurs in countries where there are active policies to promote equal opportunity, but inequality is more serious in those without such policies.

Favoritism and “when”

Even the possibilities of engaging in scientific activity are limited, even eliminated, when access to funding for the development of projects is not regulated by specific criteria. Strictly merit Or, alternatively, with random actions. For example, those who sit on committees that evaluate proposals for funding research projects, awarding scholarships, or jobs do not always base their decisions on objective criteria based on the competence and ability of the person proposing it, and how and as it is reflected in their curriculum. biographies or their core interest.

In practice, boys and girls from disadvantaged socio-cultural backgrounds face greater difficulties in accessing higher levels of education.

In a now classic study in Sweden, it was found that panel members who are awarded postdoc positions prefer people with whom they have relationships. A decade later, a new analysis using the same methodology concluded that nepotism persists. Some universal conclusions cannot be drawn from studies conducted in one country, but this is not to attribute universality to the problem, but to assert that it is present in certain systems and, therefore, (c) it is an evil that can affect the rest. of scientific systems, therefore it is necessary to study and discover them, if they exist in some of them, in order to work. the nepotism When it comes to allocating resources to research projects or encouraging certain people in obtaining grants and contracts, as part of the research profession, this is the greatest form of discrimination in the world of science. But it’s not the only one, because some people can be more subtly favored than others in these situations, without even being fully aware of it. Connection “Matthew Effect” This is one of those ways.

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The Matthew effect, according to Robert Merton, is one consequence that arises from the social nature of science. It was originally described as an enhancement of the prestige or status of eminent scientists as a result of the high regard they receive from those who have collaborated on their research, obtained similar results, or made the same discoveries independently. But it can also increase the visibility of the contributions they make. The known at the expense of the lesser known.

As a result of this increased interest and visibility, an additional psychological effect is produced, as those who gain more recognition also have more confidence in their abilities and are more devoted to trying to solve basic scientific problems. As a result, those who rank higher publish more articles that are highly cited by their peers and get access to more resources, which in turn allows them to increase the distance between themselves and those who rank less.

Readers who have not received a religious education such as that received by the authors of this article may not have understood why the effect studied in these lines is called “when.” It is an expression whose origin is found in the parable of the Gifts of the Gospel of Matthew (13,12), in this affirmation: “For to him who has it, more will be given. But of those who do not have it, it will be taken.”

This is an excerpt from The Evils of Science (Next Door Publishers), by Juan Ignacio Pérez and Joaquín Seville.

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