June 29, 2021 – 3:00 a.m. M.
President Duque did not listen to the scientific community and decided to appoint the questionable Tito José Cristian, former dean of the University of La Costa, as Minister of Science. The question that must be asked is: Where is the country heading in terms of science and education?
On July 21, 1994, the country received one of the most important reports in science and education: Colombia: On the Edge of Opportunity. President Cesar Gaviria invited scholars such as Eduardo Posada, educators such as Carlos Vasco and Nobel laureate García Márquez, among others, to form the Mission of the Sages. It was about finding a way for Colombia to move toward entrenching its scientific and educational transformation. Neurophysiologist Rodolfo Linas referred to a “magical moment in the country’s history” when education, science and development met.
Today, 27 years later, we can say that none of the subsequent governments have adopted the guidelines proposed by the expedition. Science and education remained two stone guests at the Development Festival. In this same period, three ten-year educational plans were written and all three had the same luck: they are still on file. Unfortunately, education and science responded to electoral and party interests. What a paradox: those who do not understand science or education are the ones who set the country’s scientific and educational policy! This is why we exist as we are. When the government calls in scientists, they have done so to have their pictures taken, but we all know they don’t listen. After all, he believes neither in science nor in education.
That is why when President Duque established the International Mission of the Elders, many of us recommended that the government read and adopt the report prepared by the First Committee that sleeps eternal dreams on the shelves of the Nariño Palace. We were ignored and due to numerous photos and advertising expenses, they contacted 49 scientists so that they could once again follow the path in science and education. The second expedition did the job again, but again, the government didn’t take any of the above into account. This can be inferred in a very simple way in the election of the two science ministers appointed by President Duque.
The Prime Minister, Mabel Torres, has appeared many times in the media, but mainly to explain the scandals that have been generated because she has promoted a natural vegan drink against cancer without any published research or approved scientific evidence.
The new minister is called Tito Christian and he is better known as a business and political official than a scientist. He was recently mentioned in the media because various cases of plagiarism were found in the articles in which he appeared as a co-author. Several of them have been removed, after careful verification search, from the indexed journals in which they were published. The explanation given by the new minister was not at all satisfactory to the scientific community. Christian released a statement explaining that his name was included to “highlight” the posts, but that everything was done “behind his back”. This explanation has many issues as these articles are included in your CV as a researcher. Was it also downloaded without his knowledge? Were those publications important to your promotion to Senior Scholar? Didn’t the magazines inform you of their receipt and acceptance? Didn’t anyone tell you it was already posted? , among other unanswered questions.
In any developed country, if a researcher is found to have plagiarized, distorted results or used pseudo-scientific procedures, his life as a scientist will end, because he will lose confidence in him, in his publications and in the results that are achieved. In Colombia, on the contrary, they are appointed ministers of science.
And opposed the appointment of the most important scientific societies in the country. This was done by the Colombian Academy of Sciences, the Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Bioethics Board or the Alejandro Angel Foundation. The latter is the entity that rewards the path of the great scholars of the country. Twelve former directors of Colciencias recently issued a statement calling on the president to observe “ethical standards in his appointment”. The president did not listen to any of them. For this reason, the nation has lost the silence of university deans. His voice is needed now. This is how Ignacio Mantella, the former president of the National League, understood that the only hope was that the newly installed minister knew the verbs to amend and resign. Hopefully, but knowing its course, it is unlikely.
Rodolfo Linas said that nations defend themselves with weapons or with science, because without science we will end up dependent on others. Unfortunately, everything indicates that Colombia, in the coming years, will continue to defend itself exclusively with weapons.
The current government believes in very little science. That is why in managing the pandemic, political interests and not medical recommendations have prevailed. For this reason, they revitalized the economy at the worst moment of the pandemic, with the highest number of deaths, positivity and infections. Likewise, for some time they have been promoting the arrival of the virus by plane, delaying the purchase of vaccines, slowing down testing, promoting VAT-free days, and eliminating PCR for immigrants. Mistakes made in managing the epidemic by not listening to the voice of epidemiologists from the start are dangerous. It is no coincidence that the Presidential Newscast was responsible for the president himself and not for the scholars who understood the subject. It was intended as a propaganda space to improve the image of the president and not to direct the self-care of citizens in an educational way. The explanation is clear: the government has obligations to the old political class it supports.
Everything indicates that this government does not believe in real evidence either. On the day the UK reached its first 100,000 deaths from COVID, Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized and said he would do whatever it takes to change policy and protect life. This is what the responsible president should do. In Colombia, on the contrary, when we reached a hundred thousand deaths from the epidemic, the president came out to say that he was not responsible and that young people were to blame, desperate for lack of opportunities and in the midst of the epidemic, they took to the streets to protest. Apparently, for this government, reality is an illusion. Will our leaders need psychologists or is it time for our young people, finally, to register their voices and vote more responsibly? For the good of the country, I hope it’s the latter.
* Director of the Alberto Mirani Institute (Tweet embed).