Tuesday, May 19, 2009


by Martí­n Bonfil Olivera
Published in
Milenio Diario, May 13, 2009

The relationship between Mexicans and science is schizophrenic. On the one side, we want to trust science, and on the other we deny its credibility.

In the wake of the recent outbreak of influenza, Mexican media demanded precise and fixed figures from day one, when the were impossible to have. Reporters demanded them in part by lack or knowledge about how science works, how it advances slowly and by successive approximations.

But the informative void was filled by another virus: conspiracy theories (mainly through e-mails or by word of mouth).

The majority of these were just simply absurd: the virus is an invention ("influenza my ass", López Obrador dixit); Obama brought the virus to Mexico; it was released as part of an agreement to reactivate world economy, at any cost; the outbreak was part of a strategy to scare Mexicans right before the July elections…

The problema is that in Mexico —and in a lot of other Countries— we lack a scientific culture that, beyond having or not certain knowledge, would allow us to distinguish between anecdotes or suppositions and verified data.

What we do have, certainlly, is an advanced "culture of distrust": when our expectations do not match, we deny the data, we accuse science of authoritarism and we tend to believe in complots.

As the eminent mexican pathologist Ruy Pérez Tamayo writes (La Crónica, May 8) "the handling of the necessary measures to face an epidemic is not only matter of logic and good intentions; it deals with actions based on a lot of accumulated experience through the years, on specific and well documented information, on a wisdom acquired in the books as well as in the field. For an emergency situation such as the one Mexico is going through, it is fundamental to trust authorities, especially when these are real experts with regards to the problem".

Unfortunately, our authorities have not earned that trust. Sadly, also, our culture of distrust makes us prefer conspiracy theories than trustful information.

Poor Mexico: so little science and such a taste for rumors!

(translated by Adrián Robles Benavides)

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