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close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession I: Science and technology as formative factors of contemporary civilization - from domination to liberation
close this folderScience and the making of contemporary civilization
close this folderJ. Leite Lopes
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentI. The physical image of the world
View the documentII. Science and underdevelopment in Latin America
View the documentIII. Science and dependent development
View the documentIV. Endogenization of science in which society?
View the documentV. The aims of science
View the documentVI. Science for liberation
View the documentNotes

V. The aims of science

As we follow the marvellous history of the elaboration of our scientific image of the universe, we are tempted to say that science is a unique and universal system of knowledge, politically neutral and standing above ideologies. The scientific laws are of course valid whatever the laboratory of whatever country in which you make experiments to verify them. But science is not only a catalogue of data, names, and statements. Scientific research is a dynamic process which includes interaction of the scientific community with their surroundings, with political and social forces. The motivations for research, its planning and funding, are not politically neutral. For science, in forming an interpreted picture of the world, gives us instruments for changing the world.

How many industries arose from pure fundamental research - from mechanics and thermodynamics, from the branches of chemistry, from Maxwell's equations, from the theory of electrons and quantum mechanics? Is not the whole field of nuclear energy a result of, among other ingredients, the formula of equivalence between mass and energy?

Science, we have been taught - and we like to repeat it - works for mankind, for the benefit of man, for the liberation of man from work. Science and technology are indeed so powerful as to be able to send man into cosmic space. Are they, however, not impeded from improving the living conditions of the poor and exploited masses in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America?

Is science then not a part of the social and political system of the advanced industrial nations? The results of scientific and technological research, are they not primarily and chiefly applied for the promotion of their model of society, for their mankind?

There are, of course, those who do not attach importance to these questions, who elude them.

There are those who, confronted with political changes in developing countries which tend to liberate them from subjugation and dependence, get ready to tell these countries which kind of science they must develop. It is suggested that developing countries must develop only so-called intermediate technologies, leaving the fields of advanced science and technology, the so-called big science, hard science, to the industrialized nations.

This suggestion is clearly unacceptable. Of course, a given country, with its specific resources, cannot always develop an arbitrarily chosen technology. Even the nations of Western Europe had to get together and pool their physicists, technicians, and financial means in order to establish a high-energy physics laboratory - the CERN - so as to produce the advanced and expensive equipment needed for further investigation on the ultimate structure of matter.

This idea of getting together, of pooling human and material resources among nations of a given region of the world, is it not a good idea, worthy of imitating? In this way is not the capacity of developing countries going to be enhanced, multiplied by a significant factor, are then not fields of research in science and technology open to such a group of nations, each of which would not be able to develop them in isolation? Clearly, locally developed techniques, many of which have been replaced by imported and inadequate technologies, must be preserved and studied.

But the principle that developing nations must not have access to certain fields of knowledge is unacceptable - it would be an attempt at freezing the present division of the world into rich and poor nations, at perpetuating the international division of labour.

Of course, appropriate technologies, in the sense that they should be financially, economically, ecologically adequate and serve the ideals of improving the living conditions of the whole community, not the interests of a privileged minority, such appropriate technologies are to be recommended not only to developing nations but also to the rich industrialized countries.

Look at the waste of energy, at the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels in the rich countries. Look at the indiscriminate exportation of sophisticated equipment by these nations to poorer countries just as a need to make profit, to pay for their investments in the corresponding fields. Look at the indiscriminate automation of industries and services there where labour hands are available in enormous surplus, look at the installation of computers everywhere with the subsequent aggravation of the unemployment problem.

It is as if science and technology, under the capitalist system, had as its aim liberating men from work - and thereby condemning them to "che," to being unable to find work, to having access only to the basic requirements of life.

I believe, therefore, that it is meaningless to urge the formulation of strategies for scientific and technological development in our nations if a corresponding political strategy is not analysed and formulated for changing the economic pattern of these countries.

We certainly cannot succeed in achieving endogenization of culture, science, and technology if we, scientists of the developing nations, do not discuss the basic political and economic forces which have prevented - throughout our history - the development of our potential capacity for creation.