The final paragraph of a summer course on disclosure at the Palacio de la Magdalena

In the practical classes to write informative articles, we usually emphasize the importance of the final paragraph, the closing. It is convenient that it collects the essential of what has been told in the article, so that it remains in the memory of the one who reads it and it is not diluted like tears in the rain.

This chronicle is the culmination of the summer course “From the Academy to Society: the dissemination of knowledge, theory and practice”, organized by The Conversation and given at the Palacio de la Magdalena, venue of the summer courses of the Menendez Pelayo International University (UIMP), with the collaboration of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). This is your final paragraph.

Official presentation of the course: from left. Left to right: Rafael Sarralde, director of The Conversation; Carlos Andradas, rector of the UIMP; Alberto Barbieri, rector of the UBA and Margarita del Val, coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Thematic Platform Global Health of the CSIC.

Alberto Barbieri: “The important thing is to collaborate and not compete”

The outgoing rector of the University of Buenos Aires, Alberto Barbieri, participated in the inauguration of the course, which opened with a first day dedicated to the successes and difficulties of reporting on health in the midst of a health crisis.

The rector of the UBA pointed out something very important: “The pandemic has shown the importance of explaining to the common citizen what scientists do.”

Thanks to this two-year master’s degree that citizens around the world have had to undergo, there has been an unprecedented rapprochement between society and science, and the general population’s vocabulary related to health and medicine has increased. Barbieri added: “The pandemic has also taught us that the important thing is to collaborate and not compete.”

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The virologist Margarita del Val during her conference.
Antonio Fernandez Coca (CocaPlus), CC BY

Margarita del Val: “I always speak for intelligent people”

On the same day, the virologist Margarita del Val, as usual, displayed her communication skills.

A few months ago we invited Margarita del Val and the virologist Estanislao Nistal to a conversation in a chalet in the mountains of Madrid in which we brought together several scientists from various disciplines from the CSIC, the Carlos III Health Institute and the Complutense University of Madrid , in addition to an architect, a sociologist, a businesswoman, a social worker and a journalist… Not forgetting half a dozen boys and girls from six to 15 years old.

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Detail of the classroom in which the course was taught with part of the students.
Lorraine SanchezCC BY

Each one asked a question, and Margarita del Val and Estanislao Nistal responded. The scientists began, and Margarita resolved her doubts in her own language. When it was the children’s turn, they began to ask those always correct questions that go to the essence of what they want to know. And Margarita del Val also answered them in her own language. She changed register with amazing rapidity.

When we transcribed the text of that meeting to turn it into an article, we realized that the best questions and the best answers, the most informative, the most affordable for an average reader, were those of the children. That is the facility that Margarita del Val and the great scientific popularizers have. How does she get it? She said it herself in Santander: “Because I always speak for intelligent people.”

In the hall del Real del Palacio de la Magdalena, spoke to intelligent people, appreciating whoever was listening, to his audience, as usual, without any kind of intellectual arrogance.

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Roundtable inform about health met, from left From left to right, Ricardo Gelipi (dean of the UBA), Boticaria García, Juan Ignacio Pérez Iglesias (coordinator of the Chair of Scientific Culture at the University of the Basque Country) and Margarita del Val. In the center, as moderator, Elena Sanz, editor-in-chief of The Conversation.

Juan Ignacio Pérez Iglesias: “Hoaxes make us vulnerable”

Juan Ignacio Pérez Iglesias, biologist, professor of Physiology and director of the Chair of Scientific Culture at the University of the Basque Country, spoke about the problematic situation of the scientific publication system, very deteriorated and opaque, and the persistence of hoaxes. What are hoaxes for? Why is it so important today that they spread? The answer he gave was that “hoaxes serve to destabilize, to make people more vulnerable, more clueless, and thus more manageable.”

That is why it is so important to fight hoaxes. As Boticaria García said, “we must try to conceive an institutional system to respond to hoaxes and scams.”

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A moment of the conversation between the journalist Michelle Catanzaro and the researcher and ecologist Fernando Valladares.
Antonio Fernandez Coca (CocaPlus), CC BY

Spread science to change the world

The second day of the course was dedicated to the environment. The researcher from the CSIC Museum of Natural Sciences, Fernando Valladares, spoke about how he went from the laboratory and the white coat to go out into the street with a bucket of water mixed with beets to throw against the door of the Congress of Deputies.

In a conversation with the journalist Michelle Catanzaro, Valladares shared that he has loved nature since he was a child and, seeing what had been happening in recent years, decided that he could not remain alone in presenting the results of his investigations: he had to do something more . That is why he is part of the Scientific Rebellion.

Travel to the past and go through the study of the human being

José María Bermúdez de Castro, paleoanthropologist, co-director of the Atapuerca excavations and member of the RAE, said that human beings have been outreaching for 7,000 years, sharing knowledge for 7,000 years. And he added signs that lead us to optimism: “All species usually last about half a million years. And the human species has only been on the planet for 200,000 years.” We still have 800,000 years left!

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The paleoanthropologist José María Bermúdez de Castro during his speech.
Antonio Fernandez Coca (CocaPlus), CC BY

The pediatrician Elena Bermúdez de Castro, co-author with her father of the book Baby steps: growing up from prehistoryleft us probably one of the prettiest headlines that we can extract from this week: “The pot of prehistory was the acorn and the ants were the trinkets”.

On the same day, Elea Giménez Toledo, director of the Center for Human and Social Sciences of the CSIC, insisted on the importance of the classic challenge facing the social sciences and humanities: letting people know what they consist of and, above all, doing see that they take care of everyone’s problems.

how to tell the future

Nerea Luis, PhD in Computer Science and popularizer on artificial intelligence, spoke about ethics and AI. On the last day, dedicated to the future, Nerea Luis told us that we should not only think about what we are capable of doing, but also about the implications of what we can do and how it could change people’s lives.

The last conversation was led by theoretical physicist Pilar Hernández Gamazo and experimental physicist Juan José Gómez-Cadenas. They talked about neutrinos, bosons, and ongoing experiments to find out why there is something in the universe instead of nothing.

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Moment of the conversation between Pilar Hernández Gamazo and Juan José Gómez Cadenas, moderated by Lorena Sánchez, science editor at The Conversation (in the center of the image)

Regarding the disclosure and presence of scientists in the media, Juan José Gómez-Cadenas said: “The only thing I ask of scientists who enter the social debate is that they apply scientific methodology to their opinions.”

Perhaps that is the key, the great contribution of disclosure to public debate. Everyone has the right to express themselves, without a doubt, but it is important to make people see that it is important to listen to those who know, and not to anyone who manages to be heard by the mere fact of having a loudspeaker.

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