Chile ¿país conservador?

Distintos medios estadounidenses, entre ellos el New York Times (artículo escrito por Larry Rother), han tildado esta última semana a Chile como un país conservador. Un artículo aparecido esta semana en el New Yorker, deja en claro que el gobierno del presidente Bush no ha sido muy liberal que digamos, especialmente a la hora de escuchar a la comunidad científica y así llevar a cabo políticas públicas relacionadas con temas de salud y medioambiente. En el nuevo gobierno de Michelle Bachelet habrá que ver cómo las creencias personales se manifiestan a la hora de implementar políticas públicas, más allá de credos religiosos y valóricas visiones de mundo. The President and the Scientists New Yorker Issue of 2006-03-13 Posted 2006-03-06

This week in the magazine, Michael Specter writes about the uneasy relationship between science and government in the Bush Administration. Here, Specter discusses the article.

THE NEW YORKER: In your article this week, you write about the Bush Administration’s hostility to science. Broadly speaking, what does that mean?

MICHAEL SPECTER: I’m not sure I would use the word “hostility.” The Administration simply doesn’t seem to rely on the advice of scientists on a wide range of issues: climate change, pollution, and biomedical research, for example. Previous Administrations have taken science as an area that is above the political fray—this one does not seem to operate that way.

The opposition to science seems to have a number of strains, many religious. You write about how the Administration is vehemently opposed to “any drug, vaccine, or initiative that could be interpreted as lessening the risks associated with premarital sex.” Do policymakers have some other rationale, or is this more of a straightforward agenda?

Well, the Bush Administration is squarely on the record in favor of abstinence as the main approach to issues such as H.I.V. and abortion. Few groups, by the way, oppose abstinence as an approach, and many see it as an excellent first line of defense. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t always work, and, when it does, it rarely works for long. Nonetheless, the Administration—and many of its allies among conservatives and the religious right—places far more emphasis on abstinence than on teaching children other methods of birth control and protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

What are some of the other branches of science that are suffering? For instance, you write about stem-cell research in your article.

Stem-cell research is considered by many to be the most exciting area of biomedical research. But, because it relies on human embryos, President Bush decided in 2001 that public funding for the work would be limited to those lines of cells that already existed. There are other difficult issues in the current Administration, though. The scientific recommendations of the Environmental Protection Agency have often been ignored by this Administration, and sometimes decisions on environmental policy have been heavily influenced by former, or even current, allies of industry. Climate change is another area, and so, in many ways, is nasa. President Bush has said he wants to send people to Mars. But critics say that such a program would simply take money away from more useful research.

How much of this is a response to lobbying forces, such as fundamentalist Christian pressure?

It’s not so easy to disentangle the Administration and the Christian right. The President is an evangelical Christian and so are many people in his Administration. On many issues, though, industrial lobbyists hold sway. It must also be added that stem-cell research poses moral dilemmas that many Americans find hard to resolve—so to say that it’s blindly immoral to even question stem-cell research is, in my opinion, not fair.

What are the issues of federal funding in stem-cell research? Are they so prohibitive that they have essentially hamstrung a generation of scientists?

Well, the government does not fund research that involves stem cells, because you have to destroy an embryo to carry it out. Many people feel that destroying an embryo is akin to killing a living person—and the Bush Administration has drawn a moral line at that. Such research—all major biomedical research these days—is complex, and expensive. If you are at a university and you want to do embryonic stem-cell work, you could do so only with private funds; nothing from the government can pay for the work. This can get tricky even for rich institutions like Harvard, since equipment in labs can be very expensive and groups routinely share equipment. When stem-cell research is involved, the equipment needs to be accounted for in a different way and often bought with segregated funds.

Your article also touches on a number of personnel and staffing issues—scientists who have quit in protest over the Administration’s decisions, advisory boards that have been dismantled or remain unstaffed as a result of new vetting procedures. Does the Bush Administration require that its scientists agree with its political goals? How do past Administrations compare in this regard?

No Administration is eager to hire people who are virulently opposed to its goals. Yet, in the past, there has usually been a general feeling that scientists are above—or at least on the sidelines of—politics, and that they should be given jobs based purely on their ability to carry them out. That is a little utopian, and, of course, it doesn’t always work that way. But this Administration, more than any in memory, seems very aggressive about making certain that its scientific advisors support its ideas. And, if they don’t, their advice is often ignored.

Many of the scientists and public-health officials in your article talk about science as being apolitical. But is it? Ethics and science go hand in hand, and scientists are faced with moral questions all the time. Is there such a thing as a disinterested scientist, in this sense?

It’s naïve to assume that science is apart from, rather than a part of, society. Still, there is such a thing as a man or a woman pursuing an idea solely for the intellectual fruit it might bear, and trying to work it out without regard to who votes for whom or what the ethical implications might be. (This, by the way, is not necessarily a good thing. We do need scientists to think about the possible implications of their work—which these days can touch on the most fundamental issues in life.)

Are we losing ground in science as a nation? Are other countries doing better science, and doing more of it? Are there economic as well as medical costs?

We are still immensely powerful, successful, and full of talent. Yet the sense that we are invincible as a nation of scientists is starting to fade. If the investments that China, South Korea, India, and the European Union make in research and education continue to grow at such a rapid rate, then it is hard to see how the result can be anything but a loss of prominence, innovation, and prestige.

How do you think America will compare with India and China ten years from now?

It depends. We still have the largest and most sophisticated institutions and lots of smart people. We just need to keep open the lines of education and the ability to pursue intellectual solutions to basic problems.

There have been some recent victories for science—most notably, the defeat of intelligent-design instruction in Dover, Pennsylvania. Are there signs that there may be a backlash against anti-science sentiment, and a resurgence of science?

Except for Dover, which was driven by an unusually thorough, cogent, and powerful federal-court decision, I can’ t say that I see many signs of a resurgence of support for science.

What about global warming? What does the science tell us, and how is this Administration responding to it? How is the American population responding to it?

Global warming is coming—or is already here, depending on your interpretation of the data. The government has responded by worrying about its economic place in the world rather than about the physical future of the world. It’s complicated, because we need not just to burn fewer fossil fuels, but to be sure China and India do the same. Still, America needs to lead, and it has stopped doing that. We need to develop alternative sources of energy, and that is well within the intellectual and technical abilities of this country. Still, most Americans will worry about global warming seriously only when it affects their wallets in a demonstrable way, or when their health, or that of their children, becomes measurably worse. We are not exactly known for our foresight on these issues.

What are the costs of an anti-science Administration like this one, in both the short term and the long term? Is it possible that we’re witnessing the beginning of a major shift away from Enlightenment thinking, or is that too alarmist a reading of the effect of one Administration’s policies?

That’s a little alarmist, I hope. We are in an age when almost anything is technically possible in science. We can break humans down to the smallest component parts. We can mix parts and grow new ones (or soon will). We can manipulate nature and, soon enough, we will even be able to choose the genetic components of our children. None of this is easy to take, and a reaction is understandable. The job of the Administration, and of educators, is to convince people that these powerful new tools can help immensely and not just cause harm. In the short term, that is not happening and we are probably losing some good young people who might otherwise enter science. But a few years from now—maybe 2008, to take a random date—the situation could improve markedly.

March 8, 2006 Letter From Chile With a New Leader, Chile Seems to Shuck Its Strait Laces By LARRY ROHTER

SANTIAGO, Chile, March 7 — This is the most socially conservative and tradition-minded country in Latin America, or so Chileans are accustomed to being told and to thinking about themselves. So how is it that the new president, who is to take office here on Saturday, is not just a woman, but also a single mother and an agnostic?

The triumph of Michelle Bachelet, 54, a Socialist, pediatrician and former exile, in January's election was clearly a political watershed both for Chile and Latin America. But it has also set Chileans to wondering if perhaps their supposedly inhibited and stodgy society hasn't also become more modern and broad-minded than they had ever imagined possible.

In a book that has been widely commented on and that anticipated the rise of Ms. Bachelet, "The Chilean Dream: Community, Family and Nation at the Bicentennial," the sociologist Eugenio Tironi maintained that modernization here arrived in three waves. First came an economic opening in the 1980's under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, then a political modernization in the 1990's after the return of democracy and civilian rule.

"Recent years," Mr. Tironi argued in the book, published a year ago, have initiated "the phase of cultural liberalization" and a "new moral climate." Taken as a whole, he concludes, "Chile seems to be evolving toward a liberal model of society of the North American type," marked by greater individualism, an erosion of the traditional family structure and greater social tolerance.

One index of that shift is that last year nearly 60 percent of all babies were born out of wedlock, compared with less than half in 2000. Yet for every sign of change, there seems to be a counter-example of the persistence of traditional values and resistance to more relaxed sexual and social mores.

Prior censorship of films, which had kept movies like "The Last Temptation of Christ" out of Chilean theaters for 15 years, ended only in 2003. But in sharp contrast to a place like Brazil, where a pop song called "Sin Does Not Exist Below the Equator" was once a big hit, explicitly erotic magazines are not displayed at newsstands, and nudity and coarse language are absent from prime-time television.

In the social realm, divorce was approved less than 18 months ago, after more than a century of debate during which Chileans could only "nullify" their marriages through legal subterfuge. But abortion remains proscribed, as do the gay unions now offered in parts of Brazil and Argentina, and any discussion of the morning-after pill or sex education in the schools immediately provokes controversy.

Part of the resistance is simply a result of the unusual power wielded by the Roman Catholic Church here, more conservative than its counterparts in places like Brazil and Peru. During the Pinochet dictatorship, the church, under Cardinal Raúl Silva Enríquez, was the most visible and effective defender of human rights through its Vicarate of Solidarity, saving dozens of opposition figures — including some who are in power today — from jail or even death.

"But when democracy was re-established, the church handed the democratic coalition the bill," explained Arturo Valenzuela, who is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University and comes from a Chilean family. "It was, 'We took care of you guys, so don't mess around with divorce.' Yet the ones who handed over that bill weren't the same ones who had protected the Christian Democrats and the Socialists; they represented a church that had moved right."

The news media here have historically been unusually conservative, too, and thus have served to inhibit rather than promote new values, many social analysts say. But Chile's embrace of free market capitalism, originally imposed by advisers of General Pinochet who were followers of Milton Friedman, is forcing changes even in that realm.

One leading television channel here, for instance, is the property of the Roman Catholic university. But in order to maintain the ratings necessary to attract advertisers, it has had to turn to the same mix of reality shows and racy prime-time soap operas, including some featuring premarital sex and gay characters, as its secular competitors.

Another factor in bringing about change is clearly generational. More than half the country's 15 million people were not even in school when democratic rule was restored, meaning the authoritarian practices and values of General Pinochet's 17-year dictatorship, including its emphasis on God, nation and family, are as much a fading memory as the Socialist Salvador Allende's earlier stress on social solidarity and mass political engagement.

Some, however, argue that Chile has never been as socially conservative as it often appeared in the past. A historian and social critic, Alfredo Jocelyn-Holt, for example, talks of a "subterranean" Chile in which abortion, homosexuality and other socially condemned actions have flourished.

It is not that "Chile is more pious or saintly than other countries," but that "society is much more liberal in its behavior than its discourse," he said. "What exists here is a situation that limits the expression, but not the practice."

One landmark event that brought such disapproved behavior to the surface occurred June 30, 2002, when the American photographer Spencer Tunick came here to shoot a series of pictures of multitudes of people naked in public places. To the shock of those accustomed to thinking of Chileans as inhibited, and who predicted Mr. Tunick's failure, an estimated 4,000 people were willing to take part in the project on a cold winter morning when the soccer World Cup final was being played.

The event had so much impact here that academics and journalists began to speculate about a "destape," or "uncorking," like the rapid transformation into a modern society that occurred in Spain after the fall of the Franco dictatorship. But others, like the pollster Marta Lagos, argue that a more relevant comparison is with Ireland, another Catholic country where pockets of traditional values continue to coexist with more liberal, modern attitudes.

"What our numbers tell us is that the speed of changes in values in Chile is much slower than in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil or Mexico," Ms. Lagos said. "We are changing, but we are still lagging behind in leaving the traditional society for one that is more modern and open. So in the end, it is a question of seeing the glass as half empty or half full."