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Science at the service of society

Written by

Sofía Gallego

PhD in Astrophysics

Zürich, Suiza

Curiosity about what surrounds us is a fundamental characteristic that defines us as human beings. The development of this human quality to acquire critical, methodical and systematic thinking is the intrinsic role of the scientist, who obtains it through observation, information analysis and the formulation of theories that allow us to understand and discover certain aspects of reality. This knowledge accumulated by generations has contributed to technological development and a significant improvement in our quality of life.

I maintain that science, as well as art and sports, should have as its main objective to enrich the human experience and not only to generate economic capital. Without a society aware of this need, there would be no support for our research. A society based on an economic model in which all human activity is seen only as a consumer good will inevitably fail to rescue what is important and necessary for itself.

Our scientific community is currently experiencing the uncertainty of the end of the Becas Chile program, which provides financial support to a large number of Chilean researchers who are studying or training abroad. This possible end would leave as options for those who seek specialisation, a system of credits in the style of "Crédito con Aval del Estado" (Credit with State Guarantee) and "Crédito CORFO", with the negative economic consequences already well known by many Chileans.


For many of us, it could be easy to immerse ourselves in the abstract world of our scientific research and forget the political, economic and social context that gives us the privilege of exercising what we choose. Before being scientists we are human, and we need dignity like everyone else. What is the "purpose" of being people of science, if we do not contribute and give back the privilege that was granted to us?

For this reason, I rescue and deeply admire the intervention made by Chilean Professor Claudio Gutiérrez during the Comisión Futuro del Senado (Senate Future Commission) on October 30, 2019, in the midst of the social outburst, who criticised the responsibility of the current and previous governments for perpetuating a system that led us to the collapse of the current neoliberal system.

Claudio Gutiérrez had it clear: Chilean politics needs to make decisions based on evidence, it needs to think critically. The proof that society does not conform to the current model of development is there for all to see, so the best way to reach a new agreement is to listen to all sides. Political decisions should be based on what is optimal for society as a whole and not be biased by the privilege and advantage of a few.

On the other hand, we cannot forget the responsibility we have as researchers to communicate our results to society in a clear and empathetic way, and to emphasise the potential effects that these results produce, both good and bad. The application of scientific knowledge devoid of morals leads to global disasters such as climate change and the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the indiscriminate use of antibiotics by the salmon industry in southern Chile.

In these times of pandemics, the misuse of science for government decision-making and the justification of actions for the benefit of certain economic groups in Chile has become evident, a situation that has even generated the loss of human lives that could have been avoided if scientific evidence had been taken into consideration with adequate political criteria.

Developing the capacity for critical thinking is not an exclusive attribute of those who practice science. This potential exists in every person. Critically questioning what surrounds us can give us the ability to prevent the political and economic class from passing us off as "cats in a poke," empowering us, giving us insight into what we need, and enabling us to make decisions that are in the direct interest of us, our loved ones, and society.

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