Merry Christmas in February: Scientists and Society redux

This was a letter I made for AGHAM during our Christmas party last 2003 when I had my postdoc in Glasgow. I guess it summarizes most of my views about science and society that's why I am reposting it here (with some minor re-edit and formatting).


Dear All,

Equa asked me to write a message for our Christmas party. I thought of just giving the usual Hello, kumusta- Merry Christmas-Happy New Year version but since she was not specific enough, I guess I have latitude on what I could say here. I'll try to share how I feel about being a scientist in a first world longing to come back to a country where science and technology is relatively backward and stunted.

Most of us in one way or another got involved in AGHAM because there were some particular skill that were needed in a project or some activity that we were holding. probably out of actual desire to serve, or maybe even because of Equa's kulit or Erni's insistence or even because of Trixie's size (heheh), we were asked to share what we knew as a scientist. It is not easy to convince our peers in and out of the academe that it is possible for a scientist to be "involved" or even, as we usually put in our press releases, be activist scientists.

For most, it is easy to revert to the stereotype of being a scientist as an uninvolved and supposedly objective person. Probably because its the easiest and sometimes even the preferred stereotype by current society. Yet in the long run this runs smack into several contradictions in terminologies.

One, how can an objective person not see, feel and even measure the poverty, the oppression and the exploitation around him?

Two, how can one be uninvolved and yet interact with other people and material objects inside and outside the laboratory, where funds, infrastructure, and support systems would, in one way or another, ultimately reflect upon the current societal conditions the "uninvolved" scientist is in.

Three, it is not that easy to be truly and wholly "just be a scientist" in a country where science and technology is generally backward and stunted (no offense to people of my size!).

Yet, there are times when the myth of science's neutrality is used as a shield against the call of service to society. Most of our colleagues would answer "humanity" when asked the question of "for whom" they are working for. yet they would not acknowledge that this answer falls short of the precision that scientists we would want it to be, preferring instead the general term to the much more clearer division among exploiters and exploited, oppressor and oppressed, for it usually turns out that despite the scientists' grand dreams of humanitarian service, his work ends up to fattening the profits of the few.

There are a lot of bright people I know that would rather solve the research problem he or she has, rather than face and try to contribute in solving the general plight of our people. Some would say because the research problem is more tractable. But of course, we always would explain and counter that changing society is not just tractable, it is in fact currently underway.

The challenge is not just being scientists, for I guess with your own talents and abilities, one can be the stereotypical publishing "world-class" scientist. The challenge is being a scientist in a more meaningful way than is possible in the said stereotype.

That I guess is easy enough in the sense that one will always find some way he or she can contribute directly to the people's need. What would be difficult to overcome is the conditioning and passivity of the "objective rational" scientist stereotype, despite the fact that even in quantum mechanics, one cannot observe and not interact. In more geeky physics terms, once you project your measurement operator on your system to get a measurement, you have changed the set of eigenvectors of your system under observation. in other words, you interact with what you observe. hahahah :-)

AGHAM is here to facilitate that projection operation. Yet, as it is also true in quantum mechanics and statistics, on has to do the operation over an ensemble to get a meaningful result. one has to repeat the operation many times or its ergodic equivalent: have many operations done simultaneously. Have it done by more and more enlightened and progressive scientists.

We should therefore perform another function, and that is to expand more the ranks of the activist scientists who are ready to help in their own geeky (and non-geeky) way to the benefit of our people.

The requisites of an advanced science and technology where scientists can be true to their name are the same requisites that our people are clamoring for--national industrialization, agricultural modernization (as part of a genuine land reform), social justice, etc. that is why we are also happy to acknowledge our guests who are here with us to celebrate our common goal of a better future for all.

Kaya dapat merry tayong lahat this Christmas! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year sa lahat!

Hanggang sa muli,


Pinoy in Glasgow

Christmas 2003

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Italians march in US base protest


Italians march in US base protest

Protesters came from all over the country

Tens of thousands of people have marched in the north-eastern
Italian city of Vicenza against a planned extension of the US army base

Organisers say the majority of local people are opposed
to US plans. They say Prime Minister Romano Prodi has ignored strong
local objections.

Mr Prodi is going ahead with a plan agreed by his pro-US predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi.

Despite fears of possible violence, the march passed off peacefully.

Schools normally opened on Saturday were closed, and the
US embassy warned Americans to avoid the city, as Mr Prodi appealed for
protestors to avoid violence.

Vicenza's mayor had feared the march would be
infiltrated by left-wing radicals from other EU states intent on
causing violence - as happened in Genoa six years ago, when rioting
during a G8 summit caused heavy damage, one death and many injuries.

Organisers said 100,000 people attended, while police put the number at 40,000.

Ministers banned

Marchers carried banners reading "America, No Thanks" and "Bases Go Home", and waved rainbow-coloured peace flags.

"There is no reason to have this base here," said Antonio Faitta, 25, who travelled from Genoa for the protest.

Special trains and buses from various parts of Italy arrived in Vicenza for the march.

Anti-US banners in Vicenza

People want to impose with violence a base that nobody wants
Local man

Many of them had been chartered by leftist parties and
the Greens, members of Mr Prodi's ruling coalition, although the prime
minister had banned ministers from attending the march.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the centre-left
government is embarrassingly split between those who want to respect
the decision of the previous centre-right coalition to agree to
Washington's request, and those who would like to see the Americans

Thousands set off from the town's railway station with banners such as "No To The Bases" and "America No Thanks".

"We love our town and we want to protect it," a local protester told the BBC.

"Other people want to impose with violence a base that nobody wants."

Transfer from Germany

The Americans established a military presence in Vicenza more than half a century ago.

President George W Bush wants to strengthen the base,
the headquarters of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, by transferring from
Germany to Italy another 2,000 US soldiers.

This would bring the total number of US troops stationed in Vicenza to nearly 5,000.

The base provides over 1,000 jobs to locals in Vicenza and injects millions of dollars into the local economy.

A withdrawal could have serious local economic consequences.

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