Final remarks on the role of social scientists and science in general

1 decided to dedicate my final reflections to myself and my colleagues. As social scientists, we are responsible for uncovering intellectual monopoly capitalism, its multiple dimensions, and dynamics. However, we are often forced to narrow down, to shrink ideas to fit them in a 10,000-word paper that is not up to the task of our epoch. We need to be bold and ask challenging questions, to bridge the gap between general trends and specific, in- depth analyses. I hope this book has opened more reflections than offering answers. It was meant to be an exercise of unity, a way to start integrating my ideas about contemporary capitalism that so far have been split in different papers.

Beyond social sciences, this book speaks to scientists in general. It speaks to those that still conceive science as a universal (and neutral) truth. “Pure” scientists are also political actors and actresses. Research is never neutral, and this book has given illustrative examples, including how scientists contribute to knowledge assetization and corporate profits even without intending to do it when their research becomes a blind knowledge transfer (see Chapter 13).

Too many examples are out there to neglect our social and political responsibilities. The sugar industry tried to promote dental research aimed at finding “effective means of controlling tooth decay by methods other than restricting carbohydrate intake” (Fabbri et al., 2018, p. 13). Similar examples refer to the tobacco industry’s attempt to link genetics and addiction to explain that genetic influences caused nicotine addiction. A more recent example is research stating that Monsanto’s (now Bayer) glyphosate is not cancerogenic. And what should be said about those transforming poor populations into laboratories? Astronomic research budgets are spent to prove the obvious (proper nutrition contributes to people’s health; more teachers at school improve learning outcomes) by quantifying social outcomes that can never be properly isolated. Even worse, Coville et al.’s (2020) randomized controlled trial threatened with and eventually cut water supply to low-income families to increase their likelihood of paying the bills in Nairobi. Why are these efforts not addressing the underlying causes of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment that explain, among others, why those families cannot pay water bills?

Our research priorities should consider social and environmental impacts, which requires integrating other social actors in the definition of S&T agendas. As argued by Arocena (2018, p. 6), innovation (and we add knowledge as a whole) “as a social process includes both cooperation and conflict, so its actual outcomes are highly dependent on the ‘internal’ distribution of power among the actors that get involved in the process.” It is up to us how we deal with this and where we stand.

I do know where I stand. I want to contribute to building a world without any form of social inequality, where our differences result from real choices and not from external impositions. To that end, 1 cannot afford to lose a generalist perspective, aiming to connect what may look like unrelated problems and try to build a complete and coherent conceptualization of capitalism. I hope this book has contributed to show why seemingly disconnected topics are interrelated, therefore why such a comprehensive understanding is urgent.

Notes

  • 1 As an illustrative example beyond those presented in this book, after Bolivia’s coup in 2019, Elon Musk publicly claimed on Twitter “We will coup whoever we want!”, speaking of the US and after a critique related to how Tesla was favoured by the coup in relation to Bolivia’s lithium extraction.
  • 2 https://www.politico.com/story/2019/04/24/ireland-data-privacy-1270123.
  • 3 We do not provide here recommendations to limit natural resources extractiv- ism because it has not been the focus of this book.
  • 4 https://www.endpointprotector.com/blog/data-protection-legislation-around- the-world-in-2020/.
  • 5 https://www.ft.Com/content/le2b9cd9-f82e-4d3b-a2d8-f20c08bdc3aa?segmentld= b0d7e653-3467-12ab-c0f0-77e4424cdb4c.
  • 6 This is even the case of India, generally considered as an example of a leading country in generics production, which still depends on China for almost 70% of active pharmaceutical ingredients’ procurement (Chatterjee, 2020).

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