The blindness of capitalist technoscience

Image: Steve Johnson


To prevent the Campinas “Innovation and Sustainable Development Pole” from generating more disasters

The Innovation and Sustainable Development Pole project (PIDS) provides for an aggressive change in the land use law of an extensive and appetizing area not yet explored by the real estate-financial complex. It borders on that which was valued five decades ago with the creation of Unicamp in Barão Geraldo. It also includes the one that a little later was given to public and private organizations for the implementation of other “technological poles”; a prototype of the wave of innovation that continues to wreak havoc in our public universities.

The initiative has been growing under cover of a similar veil to the one that propagated scientific and technological research as an engine of progress that justified the national development project of Brazil's great power. Now modernized by the euphemisms that the contemporary perverse confluence provides, of “innovation” and “sustainable development”, it may play, thanks to the demonstration effect that the Campinas brand provides, more disasters.

This text seeks to support the evaluation of those directly involved with the initiative and satisfy the interest of those who read me looking for ammunition to avoid this disaster and others, present and future, in other territories. For this, I begin by identifying the three actors who move in the political scene surrounding the initiative.

The first is a coalition involving public agents located in a city hall that has been linked to the real estate-financial complex for decades. Their values ​​and interests and the cavilous and misleading way in which they are being practiced in confronting the second actor, as they are well known, do not need my comment.

The second group brings together economists, engineers, urban planners, sociologists, geographers, among other professionals working in public and private organizations. Aware of the predictable negative impact derived from the real estate-financial interest of the initiative, he has forced those public agents to debate with society.

Supported by the contributions of the international research community on environmental issues, urbanization, land occupation, etc., and echoing movements that are organized in various parts of the planet, he argues with much justification, propriety, and in a convincing way, its position contrary to the “technical” judgments that intend to support the initiative.

The demonstration he makes of the negative cost-benefit of the initiative, and its prohibitive opportunity cost – when compared to actions that those public agents should promote to honor their obligation and do not do so –, also exempt me from further comments. I only emphasize the harmony of its speech and its action with the commitments to “think globally and act locally” and to defend the collective interest.

The third actor brings together a few, but very influential, Unicamp professors. They are part of the powerful national scientific elite that, due to our peripheral condition, hegemonizes our cognitive policy (the one that bundles Science & Technology and Education). And that it does so by trying to emulate the model it conceived about how private companies in advanced countries use the results of university research activities.

This model assumes that, given that the company located here is known not to carry out research, the result of this activity should be privileged within the scope of our cognitive policy. By considering our businessmen as “backward” (although they engender a unique profit rate, and therefore dispense with this result), this innovationist elite has been implementing throughout the country “technological poles”, “Technological Innovation Centers”, “incubators of technology-based companies” (now renamed startups), similar to the Innovation and Sustainable Development Hub (PIDS).

Obsessed with that mistaken model, our scientific elite has shown little propensity to assimilate the empirical evidence that reveals the dysfunctionality of its cognitive policy to convince entrepreneurs to increase their profit through the results of the research that it encourages. An event that took place between 2006 and 2008, when our entrepreneurs increased their profits and enjoyed the high resources allocated by this policy, deserves to be remembered. Contrary to what the scientific elite expected, they continued to ignore the main result that university research all over the world offers them: masters and doctors trained in hard science (of which more than half, in the USA, are employed in business R&D centers ). Of the 90 trained here in these three years, she hired only 68 to do research.

However, taking advantage of the ingrained transideological myth of neutrality and determinism of capitalist technoscience, our scientific elite argues that the result of the exogenous teaching, research and extension agendas they adopt can leverage any development project for the country; and will always result in the welfare of the population.

In the wake of this movement, still legitimized by that myth (but which has been dismantled by the failure of the innovationist bias of our cognitive policy), the scientific elite began to incorporate the same fashionable euphemisms into its narrative.

That's how those Unicamp professors designed what became a component of the Innovation and Sustainable Development Hub (PIDS). The need to obtain additional resources to those that our cognitive policy already provides them at the federal and state levels meant that the “takeover” of their “International HUB for Sustainable Development (HIDS)” by the Innovation and Sustainable Development Hub (PIDS) came handy.

Hoping to take advantage of the substantial return of the real estate-financial initiative, which would expand the physical and financial space endorsed by the municipal power to make its activities viable, they once again confer the “scientific” legitimacy – intensively propagated by those public agents – that it needs to be endorsed by society.

Thus, an initiative that, within the scope of the cognitive policy of the central countries from which that model is conceived, plays a subsidiary role and of low relevance, is exposed by those public agents as capable of providing knowledge that would solve everything from the climate crisis to the production of herbal medicines… And which, disguising its connection with the financial-real estate complex, is presented by them as capable of offering the tens of thousands of people who would occupy their area a provision of public services that is denied by the City Hall to the citizens of Campinas , long occupied by representatives of this complex.

I conclude these considerations on the ongoing debate about PIDS (which is not taking place with the same intensity at Unicamp in relation to HIDS) adding elements for those who want to avoid similar disasters in other territories.

I stress, therefore, that the foundational “logical” origin of these initiatives is the allegedly neutral and deterministic character of capitalist technoscience. This argument, which ultimately validates these initiatives, is, by precedence, what conditions a cognitive policy that we must change, but that today: (a) that much more than in central countries, has been guided by our “scientific elite” ; (b) that their “antennas” were always oriented towards emulating what their peers do there; (c) that due to this, cognitive (or techno-scientific) demands embedded in collective needs in many of the collective material needs that we still have unsatisfied have not been explored with the necessary intensity.

And that, therefore, the most convenient way to meet these complex and original cognitive demands is to incorporate into the decision-making process of this policy an actor who, although responsible for the operationalization of our techno-scientific potential, has been little heard. This actor, the knowledge workers (who work in teaching, research, planning and management of the CTI, etc.), is the one who will best be able to identify those needs, translate them into techno-scientific demands, and “bring” them to the public policy environment.

It is this actor who will be able, by bringing cognitive politics closer to these techno-scientific demands, to make the scientific elite and public agents dedicate part of their effort, and of the tax on the poor, to re-project capitalist techno-science towards the solidarity-based techno-science needed to leverage the end-policies of collective interest.

* Renato Dagnino He is a professor at the Department of Scientific and Technological Policy at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Solidarity Technoscience, a strategic manual (anti-capital fights).

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