Science under fire

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IVICI have fond memories of the IVIC, the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research. I only got to spend a few months there, specifically in the Cellular Neuropharmacology Lab as part of a short internship – all fun stuff, even got to do scorpion milking once – but I enjoyed every minute of it. What blew my mind was how well equipped the labs were.

It was heaven, they had everything. I mean, for a student that was used to pippetting Sulfuric Acid and Benzene by mouth (due to the lack of safety pipette filler in the UDO labs), these labs were top of the line. And the Marcel Roche library, don’t even get me started on that scrumptious Unesco desginated Science and Technolgy Reference Center for Latin America and the Caribbean.

So when I heard of it’s “elimination” on the part of the government, I was shocked. But apparently I learned the info the same time the IVIC community did, seeing that the new law was not even consulted with them. Even the IVIC’s personnel committed with the proceso were taken back.

Many have weighed in their experiences in this institution. Two that have resonated have been Miguel Octavio’s blog, with his excellent personal recount on life in the IVIC (and what changed the game for him), and José G. Álvarez Cornett, who has a great article both personal and somewhat institutional.

For me, the IVIC is one of the most (if not the most) renowned scientific institutions in Venezuela. Even facing absurd politics and budget cuts, it has still been able to keep making science and scientists in the country.  It has been 55 years of discovery, and knowledge, and hard work. Of the 100 most cited scientific papers in the world, number 86 was produced in the IVIC (Yeah Science!). There is absolutely no excuse for this move, for this degradation of such and important venezuelan institution.

But for Arreaza, the IVIC is just a elitist institution that had to be reformed:

What we are going to eliminate is elitist science, dedicated to capitalism, the type of science thats not useful for the people.

Elitist science?

Dedicated to Capitalism?

Not useful to people?

Resentment thy name is Chavismo…

The Goverment has been slowly and consistently undermining, or violently interfering, with universities and scientific Institutions. These are not isolated “incidents” – this is an aggressive and hostile takevoer.

In June,  the Marine biology station of Dos Mosquises was snatched away from “Fundación Cientifica Los Roques”, and handed to the “Fundación de Investigaciones Marinas Francisco de Miranda.” They were given 3 months to take their equipment or lose it.

The move was an outrage. The Marine Biology Station was born from the hard work of many environmentalists. This is where key studies were made, giving us our first marine National Park (Los Roques), promoting the fishing bans for Botuto and Lobster,  working hard on Marine Turtle and Shark conservation, teaching the population of Los Roques to take care of the environment with their education programs, and also branching into other areas like antrohpology and archeology.

Jacques Cousteau came to this station back in the 70’s with his Marine Biology tour on board the Calypso. That’s how important it was, but the goverment didn’t even blink. Forty-seven years of pioneering science and the environment, lost.  The Station was dismantled on October 1st. Read Dr. Juan Posada’s  heartfelt goodbye to the station that formed him.

In August, the Environmental Ministry was sacked, and now it’s just a pathetic office in the Housing, Habitat and Ecosocialism Ministry. Why? Because it was simply getting in the way.  How? Well, for starters, by not giving permits for housing and construction permits inside Park territories.

For example the case of the Medanos de Coro National Park in 2011 (quaint little project by the Ministerio de Las Comunas) and also the new housing in La Restinga (20 new houses). There’s also a worrisome construction of a tourism development in Morrocoy National Park where they have already started cutting down mangrove (illegal by the way) and doing soil compaction. There’s no way the old Environmental MInistry could have given permits for this, but now, under new management, well, they ain’t gonna tell their boss no.

(On a side note, a friend who worked in Los Roques was quick to point the amount of illegal constructions in that Park, and I’m no talking about little sacks, but mansions for the rich and elite. The Government most likely has violated the Environmental Non Regression Principal signed in Rio 2012. Did it give a shit? No.)

This November, following the IVIC’s guillotine verdict, and the gestation of its bizarro substitute, the IVECIT,  the law on Science, Technology and Innovation was reformed. Once again, it was not consulted with the stakeholders.  This law gives the goverment more control over resources meant for scientific research.

I am very forlorn on the future of Venezuela’s environment. Conservation and science go hand in hand, and the destruction of our scientific/environmental institutions can only mean destruction for our environment.

By the way, have you gone to Canaima yet? Maybe you should not postpone it anymore.

1 COMMENT

  1. Excellent post!
    I wonder what happened inside the IVIC that got the red’s attention. I mean, they’ve been there for 15 years, why now? someone couldn’t get his hands on the lab equipment imports perhaps? or this is just another step on the way.

  2. A story told over and over.

    Chavismo elites want Venezuela’s wealth for themselves. And as the wealth of the country is based on its geology rather than the industry of its people, the population is properly extraneous. Chavismo wants the country as poor, as stupid and as depopulated as possible.

    So, yes, no surprise. Science and scientists are part of the package. They must go, just like the other frogs in the pot.

    • “…the population is properly extraneous.”

      Exactly the point I have made in comments on several other posts. For Chavismo, the people of Venezuela are like “the lilies of the field… they neither toil nor spin.”

  3. It’s a tragedy, an unbelievably obtuse political decision. Whereas most governments see spreading know-how through R&D and investments in advanced education as the foundation for a more prosperous future, chavismo-madurismo promotes autophagy.

    This article
    attempts to provide some explanation for the current state of affairs by attributing the closure of IVIC to conflicts between postmodern anthropologists and Prof Marcel Roche, one of IVICs founders. Sounds odd, but perhaps not too odd knowing how bizarre chavista thought can be :


    Desde entonces, muchas disciplinas académicas, padecen los embates de una “nueva inquisición”, esta vez contra la ciencia, emprendida por la llamada “izquierda posmodernista” o “deconstruccionista”. Esta nueva visión de la ciencia argumenta, entre otras cosas, que no hay tal “observación objetiva, que los hechos son elaboraciones políticas y que la ciencia es un instrumento de opresión”.

    [……]

    El cobarde ataque contra Roche con la intención de dañar su reputación y su obra, apuntó también a los valores construidos por toda una generación de científicos e intelectuales. Es innegable que en Venezuela está en marcha, desde entonces, una “nueva inquisición” contra las instituciones académicas y científicas promovida por el régimen chavista tutelado por el castrocomunismo.

    Flor Pujol, presidenta de la Asociación de Investigadores del IVIC, declaró recientemente a la prensa sobre los logros de esa institución: “30% de la ciencia hecha en Venezuela surge en el IVIC, 400 egresados en doctorado y maestrías han salido de la institución y 200 proyectos de investigación se llevan a cabo en este momento. 80% de sus trabajos son para mejorar la calidad de vida del venezolano”.

    Sin embargo, el parte oficial habla de “la ciencia al servicio del pueblo, al servicio de la liberación, al servicio de la soberanía”, eslóganes políticos para justificar la ocupación y desmantelamiento de la institución, como pasó anteriormente con el Instituto de Tecnología Venezolana para el Petróleo, Intevep.

    Cuando en otros países se invierte en conocimiento y se promueve la innovación tecnológica, en Venezuela se asfixia a las universidades, se hostiga a los científicos y se cierran los centros de investigación, provocando el éxodo de miles de profesionales hacia otros países.

    Jacinto Convit, en una entrevista que le hiciera El Nacional (28/01/01) en relación con la historia científica del país y los hombres que, como Marcel Roche y otros eminentes científicos, han dado su vida por el avance de la ciencia en Venezuela, declaró en forma dramática: “Destruir es fácil, construir requiere años”. En su ignorancia y fanatismo, el régimen terminará suplantando la ciencia por la superstición.

  4. The funny (or sad, actually) thing is that this comes at a time when other South American nations have made great progress in increasing the quantity and quality of their scientific output and attracting back researchers, even in poorly-run Argentina. A few months ago, Nature had a special on South America, with some editorials and a few numbers. According to this, Venezuela is the only country in the region with a decreasing scientific output – publications fell by 29% between 2009 and 2013. I mean, this is obviously not unexpected, but that is a brutal amount in such a short time.

  5. I am copying a post I made in Miguel Octavio’s Blog:

    ” Just a quick comment of a similar Institute, the IDEA.

    Its founder, Raimundo Villegas, recently passed away (See these two articles: this one by Rafael Polanco http://www.el-nacional.com/rafael_palacios/Villegas_0_508749269.html and this one about the history of IVIC: http://www.cdc.fonacit.gob.ve/DB/conicit/edocs/2013/tabla/Cpitulo-IV-El-Ivic-en-cuatro-momentos.pdf

    If you see history the official website of IDEA you will see a gaping hole between 1980 and 1999, where “nothing happened”: http://www.idea.gob.ve/contenido.php?pag=5 so you see where the IVIC is headed ….”

  6. Maybe IVIC had the glorious past. Maybe. I paid a scientific visit to IVIC a couple of years ago. I spent some time in the Center of Ecology. I was shocked with seeing so many people employed there on the positions of master students, doctoral students, researchers, senior researchers, people employed there – and most of the time doing NOTHING. Talking. Walking. Sitting. Drinking coffee. Meeting each other. Talking. Planning. Oh, yes, a LOT of planning. And then doing nothing to fulfill the plans. And talking.

    I am not surprised of the present risk of IVIC’s decline. I noticed the obvious signs of that decline some time ago.

    • Researcher from EU,
      That is no reason to eliminate IVIC, but to restructure it in a meaningful way. This is only the prelude to the elimination of all the “Academias”. The regime wants its building to expand the National Assembly for the benefit of the productive, non talking, non coffee drinking, non day-boozing, no walking, members of the PSUV and its road minnions. The hiennas need more space to rest, now that Maduro legislates by another Ley Habilitante, Maybe they need some private rooms instead of “cubiculos”, a large bar and a disco. By the way, what year did you pay a visit to IVIC?

    • It’s clear to me that the planned ‘reform’ of IVIC has little (or nothing) to do with the declining scientific score of IVIC (30% drop in publications within the last 5 years). You are probably right that it’s an obscure “political” move.
      Thus, I am afraid that even the fast and effective restructuring couldn’t save it in this situation.

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