On March 20, the “Right to Science: Access to Knowledge” panel was held, organized within the framework of the Second High Level Conference of the United Nations on South-South Cooperation (PABA +40).
“Do we have an idea from the Latin American and Caribbean viewpoint of what the right to science means to us? How should it be expressed in public policies so that our societies can say that we have this right?” With this reflection, Lidia Brito, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science in Montevideo opened yesterday’s panel discussion on “The Right to Science: Access to Knowledge”, organized as part of the Second High-Level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation (PABA+40).
Brito stressed that the right to science, although mentioned for decades in international covenants and declarations, has only recently begun to be promoted by various countries and organizations like UNESCO. In line with this, the panel called on specialists and officials from different areas to think about a right that is both complex and diverse. For Brito, as well as for all panelists, this right implies the access to scientific discoveries, but also the right to produce knowledge.
One of the panelists was the Director of CIPDH-UNESCO, Patricia Tappatá Valdez. Tappatá Valdez explained that in Latin America, the right to science has been relegated: “It does not appear as one of the most crucial rights. Acute poverty leads us to prioritize the right to work, health, housing and education.” However, Tappatá Valdez pointed out that the contribution of scientists to the search for memory and justice for the crimes committed during Latin American dictatorships in the 20th century is noteworthy. In particular, she recalled the famous American anthropologist Clyde Snow, who in 1984 helped to create the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF). The EAAF methods were key to identify the remains of those missing not only in Argentina, but they have also been a model for many other countries even to this day.
Members of the panel included Jesús Guadalupe Fuentes, a member of the Board of Directors of the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC); Fabio Senne, Coordinator of TIC projects of the Regional Centre of Studies for the Development of the Information Society in Brazil; Joshua Setipa, Executive Director of the Technology Bank for developing countries; and Jorge Tezón, Scientific and Technological Development Manager of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina (CONICET).
The virtuous encounter between scientific development and its application to the needs of society is not a frequent event. There are multiple reasons. Tappatá Valdez mentioned inequality, among other factors: “The validity of human rights in general and the fact of making the human right to science a reality have the same starting point, which is inequality. Both at the structural level and within the changing contexts that create unequal access to goods, information, technology and the results of scientific development,” she stated. She also pointed out the difficulties that women face when trying to participate and make progress in the scientific field.
In this regard, Joshua Setipa stated: “Everyone is talking about the fourth industrial revolution while, in some communities, you cannot even load a website because there are problems with the Internet connection.” And he warned: “Unless there is an intentional and dedicated effort to address challenges from the political point of view, for instance, where investments need to be made and countries’ policies need to support science development, the declaration of the right to science will be nothing more than a mere declaration.”
On the other hand, Jorge Tezón shared his point of view as a member of the scientific community. He stated that when talking about limitations in scientific development, the response of the scientific community is usually to request more funding for research. Tezón asserted that although budget constraints are a problem, appropriation by society of existing scientific knowledge is not given the same relevance. Therefore, “we must translate that knowledge and set it in the context of a conflict or need,” he said. And he mentioned as positive examples the population censuses and the climate information systems that are key for planning crops and harvests.
Fabio Sienne talked about “Information and Communication Technologies” (TICs). According to him, the right to science “is a tool to secure other rights and TICs are believed to be essential for the creation of public policies.” In particular, he highlighted the positive effects that they can have in the strengthening of democracies. For example, he said, some countries have enacted laws that compel governments to be transparent by publishing documentation and budget balance sheets related to their actions on their websites.
Another important topic discussed by the panel was the respect for and use of ancestral and popular knowledge. Although they do not have the same creation and verification systems as the scientific community, they have existed since time immemorial and have been a key factor in the development of societies. Tezón stated that the encounter between scientific and popular knowledge was possible and necessary, while Jesús Guadalupe Fuentes, a member of the Mixtec people of Puebla, Mexico, made an ardent defense of the indigenous knowledge: “I think we have created science. We must have concepts that speak of social and cultural recognition of indigenous peoples, that we have values and a vision,” he said. In conclusion, Fuentes suggested joint action between governments and indigenous peoples to include the respect for nature.