Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic represents one of the greatest challenges that humanity has faced as a species in recent times. The crisis posed by the health emergency, which has been in effect for almost a year, has exacerbated the social gaps and inequalities in the different countries of the world, putting their health systems on the ropes in the fight for patient care and the partial containment of contagion to the rest of the population.
To that extent, governments of different countries, public and private research centers, researchers and academics have made enormous efforts to make available to the population treatments, vaccines and detection, prevention and care plans that allow containing the impact of this disease. The development of prototypes and technological advances for the manufacture of medical supplies and instruments and prevention materials has also been required, not to mention all those fields of research that are not directly related to first-line emergency care, but that have development and innovation required to address situations in different areas due to the pandemic.
In contrast, in an unusual and unusual way, the health emergency has also revealed the rejection of science and scientific evidence by some leaders of the American continent and the world. The pandemic has reflected the dire consequences of these political positions and the risk they imply for the population.
During 2020, it became common to hear about the negligent policies for managing the pandemic promoted by Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the United States, which prioritized the economy over the health of their population. Trump argued the need to reach November without an economy in ruins, complained to China and the WHO about the conspiracy responsible for the development of the virus despite scientific studies that point to its probable zoonotic origin, and recommended in an irresponsible and dangerous way “Miracle remedies” against the disease, without any scientific evidence and without taking into account the side effects of these substances. For his part, Bolsonaro, in his denialist stance, classified COVID-19 as a “little flu”, fired two health ministers and encouraged demonstrations against confinements, preventing a more appropriate management of the health emergency in Brazil, which he was able to save thousands of lives. The consequences are reflected in the number of fatalities, which in Brazil exceeded 221,000 and in the United States rises to 448,000. An authoritarian tendency is increasingly notorious that disdains reason and enlightened thought that today’s society boasts, arranging arguments and information according to its convenience.
But this way of approaching reality is not new, in 2018 the president of Brazil denied the depredation and deforestation of the Amazon, despite the satellite images that proved it. Similarly, both Bolsonaro and Trump have taken denialist positions on climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to the point that they withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, to name a few. . These political positions, while incredible at times, are far from harmless.
In an unprecedented situation such as the health emergency we are witnessing today, these political positions are worryingly reminiscent of characteristics of the European fascisms of 80 years ago.
Undoubtedly, the difficult time we are going through as a society and those outbreaks of anti-science denialism pose different challenges for us regarding the reconfiguration of the university-society relationship, beyond training. Universities from our missionary activities, in addition to contributing to the development of ambitious innovation exercises to address social, political, economic and environmental problems, we must also contribute to the understanding of scientific arguments by the bulk of the population, helping to prevent the ignorance and uncertainty of situations such as those we currently face from becoming a political fortress for authoritarian minds and those with a desire for power.
Rector of the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional