Archive for January 26th, 2007

Gioconda Cunto de San Blas and the “dark clouds that are looming” against freedom of speech and academic freedom in Venezuela

January 26, 2007

Last Tuesday, mycologist Gioconda Cunto de San Blas, was incorporated as a numbered member of the Venezuelan Academy of Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Natural Sciences, a fact that I pointed out earlier in a “good news” post. Dr. San Blas is the first woman to become such a member of the Academy. I was unable to attend, but Dr. San Blas sent me a link to her presentation, as well as the text accompanying it, which I will attempt to upload and link to later.

I thought it was worth translating her words in slides 39 and 40 of her presentation, which in Gioconda-‘s customary principled style, speaks out for women in science, freedom of speech and against the attempt by Chavez’ revolution to redefine with ignorance the concept of what science is or should be. These words alone should tell you, why Dr. San Blas deserved to be a member of the Academy, not only because of her distinguished scientific career, but because of the certainty that she will not only fight, but she will never be silenced. At times like this, Venezuela and the Academy require more women and men like Dr. San Blas. Indirectly, Dr. San Blas is referring to the case of Claudio Mendoza referred to earlier, where the ugly clouds of fascism and intolerance have become a reality in recent days.

Dr. San Blas’ words:

“My incorporation comes signed with the commitment to support my fellow academics in achieving greater visibility, directed towards the incorporation of new female members in the Academy, in the certainty that all of us will be up to the new challenges that are posed by a society evolving as fast as the present one. I make my own, the words of Irčne Curie, not only a Nobel prize winner – as we already saw- but a distinguished fighter for the rights of the women, who said at some occasion: “I am not one of those that think that a woman scientist can lose interest in her role as a woman, in either her private life or in her public one”. It is in that interest for the public cause, which is nothing but the meaning of the word Republic, that I am concerned about the dark clouds that are looming against the indispensable and enriching freedoms of expression and lecturing, a fog that slowly, but without pause, seems to be penetrating these academic and university corners, to prevent that there may freely arise from them, diverse ideas and thoughts, to be freely contrasted with aid of only reason. We are already being threatened explicitly and without scruples from the highest spheres of power with a future conflict with the centers of knowledge. We talk about the necessity to make science pertinent, that is to say, that which is oriented towards the immediate needs of the country, as long as the cold experimental data are not politically impertinent, that is to say, opposed to the content of official speech and under the assumption, denied by the facts, that researchers have been working with their backs turned against our national reality and that it is only now, that we will dedicate our efforts to it. We are being told today about popular science, to be generated by supposedly spontaneous creators without any academic training, in apparent contrast to formal science. But they deceptively obviate, that the latter is the only one capable able of creating universal valid knowledge, starting from criteria rigorously verified and poured off throughout centuries of experimentation, that all the modern advances, from electricity to fertilizers, from aeronautics to computers, from vaccines and medicines to cellular phones, that today improve our possibilities for comfort, have not been products of an improbable popular science, but of the indispensable and rigorous formal science made by scientists of high professional qualification and transmitted to the people in the form of applied technologies. We now want to quickly educate thousands of scientists and technologists without the appropriate maturity of knowledge, so that they help in the construction of a modern country, denying the high level contributions that in the last 49 years have helped, even if in insufficient form, in that direction. But one thing is true; they want scientists who will silence their own opinions about the specialized subjects that are their own, whenever they may brush up with political interests that it is not convenient to stir up from academic and university podiums. In short, with veiled threats and others which are not so veiled, it seems that times have arrived in which every one will have to reframe his/her position with respect to the State. If this ever happened, we can only hope that such individual decisions do not take us in the future to deserve a collective condemnation similar (although, without a doubt, in a different context) to which General Telford Taylor, in the trials of Nuremberg, launched towards the German academics, when he reprimanded them for their lack of decision to oppose Nazi pseudo-science: “… They are the men who absolutely failed their country and their profession, that did not show any courage, nor wisdom, nor any vestige of moral character….”