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About the Science Manifesto by Jose Mariano Gago

About the Science Manifesto by Jose Mariano Gago

In an excellent initiative of Editora Gradiva and the Laboratory of Instrumentation and Experimental Particle Physics (LIP), José Mariano Gago’s “Manifesto of Science in Portugal” was recently reissued, taking advantage of the 75th anniversary of his birth. The article was originally published in 1990. I read the article when it was published (and I still have my copy) proud of the professor in the Physics Department of the Instituto Superior Técnico where I was a student at the time. I was never a student of José Mariano Gago, but after his return to Técnico as head of JNICT, I discussed with him advanced topics in experimental physics, of which he was responsible and teacher in engineering physics-technology.

In addition to reviewing the article, I strongly advise you to read, in parallel, the reasoning given by Mariano Gago, in a candid and broad way, in an interview with João de Pena Cabral, from the Institute of Social Sciences, and published in Análise Social in 2011 [1]. Since there are many others who can report, in the first person, their impressions of Mariano Gago (by the way, they are explicitly mentioned in the interview), this one reveals, in the first person, his intellectual stature, the vision that underpinned his political action and his diagnosis of what still had to be done done in 2011.

Three aspects always stand out in my re-reading of the interview. The first is to focus on society’s appropriation of science, as the primary tool for consolidating the scientific system. This appropriation is categorically understood as social and cultural, and goes beyond the economic impact of science – Mariano Gago argues that only with a very broad social base of support will it be possible to make scientific development inevitable.

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The second aspect that stands out is the importance of having a clear vision and a detailed plan for the continuation of political action – if the statement of intent is presented, then it is possible in the interview to understand how all your previous political actions were supported by a medium and long. The term, duly designed and articulated in its various dimensions, recognizing the same limitations of existing institutions (eg universities) or scales for which it was conducted. This component is quite noteworthy because, in all spheres of political action, we rarely find political actors who have the ambition, clarity and consistency in the systematic implementation of the transformation plan, without “… succumbing to the temptation of our eternal smallness” [2].

Finally, the enduring tension regarding universities is evident. On the one hand, they have been a source of resistance to scientific development processes, for example at the start of launching scientific institutions or as fans of evaluation processes that are described as immature. On the other hand, there, in universities and scientific institutions, the hope lies in the development of an important part of scientific professions outside companies. Mariano Gago also realizes that although the number of researchers is close to the standards of the countries with which we want to compare ourselves, there is still a long way to go, especially in terms of “material (…) or financial resources available to conduct research”.

Despite some progress, 12 years after the interview, the problem of occupations has not yet been fully resolved. Contrary to Mariano Gago’s hopes, and despite the fact that some institutions, such as Técnico, have developed multi-year plans for staffing and career development, the overall picture remains disappointing. We could argue that the context of universities and scientific institutions was opposed to medium-term planning, but perhaps it is evidence of what Mariano Gago describes as “(…) the combination of melancholic defeatism, apparent common sense, anxiety and fear of the future that shapes our Portuguese web of misfortune on the basis of centuries of poverty and lack of opportunity.

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In times like the one we live in, when university reforms and challenges to scientific professions are announced, it is always inspiring to re-read the optimism and ambition of José Mariano Gago: optimism in the ability of the state to build a society based on science; An aspiration for a fully European country and by the standards of countries such as Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark. Therefore, everyone’s desire to reissue the statement and re-read this interview is certainly an additional incentive for our scientific community and our political decision-makers to maintain this optimism and, above all, the ambition of Mariano Gago.

[1] Interview with José Mariano Gago by João de Pena Cabral, Social Analysis, Vol. XLVI (200), 2011, 388-413, Available here: http://analisesocial.ics.ul.pt/documentos/1325586077J8 zDR6sq3Ep56EE1.pdf

[2] All citations refer to the text in [1]

Emeritus professor of the department

in Physics, Higher Technical Institute

Web: http://web.tecnico.ulisboa.pt/luis.silva/

Twitter: @luis_os