“Very few politicians are genuinely interested in science” | Science

“Scientists are trained not to speculate, although the politician wants us to speculate and society sometimes needs it. But if you speculate too much, you stop being a scientist and become a charlatan. In science, ‘I think’ it’s always a wrong word. ” Uruguayan researcher Rafael Radi explains why science has an increasingly relevant role, but also a more complicated one to define, in a society that faces challenges that are also increasingly complex. Radi talks, specifically, about human right to science, which supports the idea that every human being should have the possibility to benefit from the advances of scientific and technological progress. During conferences recently held in Montevideo on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Unesco’s office in the region, Radi and other Latin American researchers explained that the time has come to speak of this right, and to defend it.

“The universal declaration of human rights already contains it, in article 27, but it is true that, for a long time, the right to science has been in the background or in the background. The point is that, today, the complexity of the issues that we must resolve on this globalized planet, such as the aging of the population or the brutal challenge to the environment, means that science must be viewed as an integral part of human rights. “Radi later explains to EL PAÍS. “Scientific thinking, critical thinking, and evidence-based decisions would go a long way in solving these issues. I see no other sustainable path in the future of the planet than to incorporate the scientific arsenal into all dimensions of human endeavor. ”

The complexity of the issues that we must resolve on this globalized planet means that science has to be viewed as an integral part of human rights ”

Rafael Radi is one of the most recognized and prestigious Latin American researchers. Born 56 years ago in Montevideo, this biochemist and biomedicine works on the molecular mechanisms of free radicals. He is the director of the Center for Biomedical Research (CEINBIO) of the University of the Republic (Montevideo), the president of the Academy of Sciences of your country, also a member of the Academy of Medicine, and is the first Uruguayan to be chosen as a foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. As a member also of the Academies of Brazil and Argentina, he knows very well the state of science and biomedical research in the region. “The basis, that is, that there is a critical mass of researchers, research centers and infrastructures, is in many countries. In the Southern Cone, for sure; Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, which is what I know the most, “he explains. “But moving from preclinical to clinical research is a very complex leap in highly demanded healthcare systems that do not always have sufficient resources. Attendance beats research, because it is always the priority ”, he adds.

Radi says that one of the problems of biomedical research in Latin America that day in university hospitals in the region, where “clinical research always remains on a second step because what has to be solved is healthcare and there is no tradition of set aside time to do research. ” In the best American or European hospitals, the opposite happens: doctors spend more hours researching than in clinical practice, since the results of that research are essential to improve that practice. “This virtuous circuit must be encouraged, because research fuels better clinical practices and medicine generates new questions. Research in biomedicine has to be an integral part of a country’s health system, “explains Radi. “The WHO says that the health system should invest 2% of its spending on R&D. Uruguay and the countries of the region are far from that, surely they are between 10 and 50 times below that value. But we have gained a lot, in these 30 or 40 years, in generating the basic capacities so that our systems have the future capacity to generate these investments, ”he adds.

The researcher believes that part of the problem is the “lack of scientific culture” that is detected in a large part of the political class. “This is a problem that also crosses all the politics of the Southern Cone; very few politicians are genuinely interested in science, beyond the anecdotal. In our national Parliament, where there are 99 deputies and senators, there are perhaps five or six who come to science. I think that the politicians see the subject with interest and in good spirits, but you see them still distant, they find it elusive, they realize that this is the way, but they do not know very well where to grab it. And they fear that the wave will pass over them. And this is a matter of country, of national sovereignty, it does not matter if the right or the left wins, science has a great deal to contribute in an evidence-based policy, in topics such as health, climate change, education… ” , he explains, forceful.

Fight against cancer

The researcher is optimistic about the “arsenal” that science is discovering in its fight against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases; This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded precisely to the discipline he studies. “In two years, Nobel prizes have been awarded to a series of investigations that start with very basic elements but that have in both cases implications for cancer, one with immunotherapy, and the other, actions to get the metabolic advantage that they have tumor cells in relation to hypoxia. What we have is an ever larger and more selective arsenal to fight cancer. ” What is happening is that the increasing aging of the population is going to make cancer and neurodegenerative diseases become an increasing biomedical challenge. The researcher explains it like this: “One of the great challenges of modern medicine is how to identify the pathology associated with aging, how to modulate and correct it so that the expansion of life expectancy is accompanied by another expansion of health expectancy . And there we have neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cancers and a very important topic, which is little talked about, and which is the first reason for disability in older patients: the fragility and collapse of the musculoskeletal system. ”

“One of the great challenges of modern medicine is how to identify the pathology associated with aging, how to modulate and correct it so that the expansion of life expectancy is accompanied by another expansion of health expectancy

Radi returns to the initial idea: science is the only tool with which modern societies will be able to face this brutal challenge, that of an increasingly aging population and a system that will not be able to take care of all of them. “The idea is that the caregiver is the last measure, not the measure. The WHO says that there is only one health: human, plant, animal, environmental … they are all interconnected. And is that another issue that appears in the panorama are the centenarians and the supercentenarians, which are going to multiply by ten in the next 20 years. They are great dilemmas of the 21st century, and this is where politics and science have no other option than to interact ”, he concludes.

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