Open science, independent scholarship and countries under attack: the case of Brazil

@Gavin and I have been discussing how “well-behaved” conservative academic national environments can be forced into “new forms of doing science” by political disaster.

This is what is happening in my country of origin, Brazil.

I am sharing the productive thread of conversation that @Gavin and I had to open to other members concerned with the same issue.

At first we both thought about something specifically about Brazil. That would be good, of course. However, opening to the issue of revolutionizing was of doing science and constructing knowledge can productively engage anyone interested in that, especially if they are experiencing something similar. The dismantling of traditional academia by far right populist governments (or ur-fascist governments) is happening in other countries as well.

Finally, as much as I am a firm believer in the benefit of incorporating lived experience into knowledge production and writing, in this case it would be productive to have some less immersed interlocutors. As a Brazilian, right now it is hard for me (and my colleagues there) to talk about this objectively while our students may be forced out of their programs into not only unemployment, but an identity vacuum.

The idea would be to put together an outline for a couple of virtual meetings and publish either a book with chapters by each participant or a special issue of a journal.



Would answer this later. :slight_smile:

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@marilia and @Gavin:

I think open scientists and scholars need to immerse themselves in electoral politics and power struggles, nationally and internationally (u.n, e.u, asean, etc.).

The model i have in mind is what fadhel kaboub (search him on facebook) is doing with u.s elections. Also other modern monetary theory scholars (all over the world including post-colonializing ones such as u.s, u.k, e.u, n.z, canada and australia) and their respective elections.

We need to get good politicians elected so we could get them to implement the policies we think best for our nation and humanity.

For the case of brazil and indonesia (see vincent bevin’s work ‘the jakarta method’ to get a sense of how indonesia and many latin american countries are connected), i think my findings last year about indonesian national election remains relevant, and could be generalized to many other post-colonialized countries, including brazil’s elections.

In essence, many of our elections in post-colonialized countries are rigged. For the case of brazil, the documentary ‘the edge of democracy’ is useful as a general overview.

Fortunately, we now have a scientific method to detect this rigging simply by having the election result. This is election forensic.

So we could and should form an international post-colonial election forensic network to deter rigging. However, as the recent russian case below show (see individual tweet replies), sometimes leaders purposefully give away the evidence just to show they can get away with it.

Before/during/after helping to get good leaders at the highest level elected, we should also teach our fellow compatriots/citizens/residents modern monetary theory. That is, our countries actually has no lack of money (national currency), but political will to implement our constitution and united nation declaration of human right. That is why there is no other way but national electoral politics and power struggles.

I don’t think this road is taken by any open scientist and scholars i know. I was in the midst of educating the late jon tennant on this before he passed away. He took so many of my suggestions for his other initiatives, which made me really sad to imagine what might have been had he been alive to clear his name.

Well, we are alive. And i wish all of us the best for each of our struggles. :slight_smile:


Indeed, Surya, we do (need to immerse ourselves).

Here’s a couple of problems I see there:

  1. In Brazil, some of my brightest colleagues share the same view. Unfortunately, given the traditional, disciplinary nature of Academia, we were either unable to provide a proper blueprint for action of the few of us who tried were isolated voices. I have copies of warnings that I have been sharing since 2013. The coup that got Dilma impeached was something we were warning against for years. Academia proved to be toothless in this scenario.

  2. The rise of a true fascist movement took everyone by surprise. I remember in the late 1980’s, early 1990s friends in graduate school studying the “weird” rise of evangelical churches in the periphery of large cities. Nobody connected the dots.

  3. The militias were more of a local, Rio, phenomenon. Since the police has always been corrupt by nature and death squads exist as organized units since the 1960s, and they are appreciated by the reactionary middle class, they represent another non connected dot.

  4. The immense popular support enjoyed by the far right also took our naive left by surprise. After all, we never had an actual fascist movement. There was a fascist dictatorship that never enjoyed organized public support. When trump declared he can kill a person in the 5th avenue and nothing would happen to him, his statement was interpreted as bravado about the democratic institutions that he was dismantling. It was not: he meant he has 60 million Americans rabidly eager to support him and a loose fringe of 100 million. Bolsonaro is close to 50% support. We didn’t see this coming.

  5. We live a crisis of leadership. The democratic forces are not capable of forming a front. The reasons for this go back to the end of the dictatorship. The dictatorship ended when the generals decided it would. They handed the power back to the democratic institutions in their own terms and we accepted. We are reaping our weakness.

  6. There is no democratic memory as Western Europe has. There is nothing to “go back” to. The new middle classes created by the successful policies of the Labor Party were coopted by the fascist movement.

  7. In Brazil, half of the democratic forces employ all their energy in combating the other half (Ciro and Lula supporters, respectively). I published an article not long ago defending that unless the two of them come out publicly in an alliance, Brazil will be in fascist hands for much longer.

  8. Although the economic situation is not as harsh as the US, where vital segments have achieved maximum capital concentration and are completely immune to mobilization or any policy (several violations of anti-trust laws were taken to Court and it was futile: there is no competition anymore), it is plunging into a recession and a depression.

  9. We, scholars, have been too comfortable in traditional academia for too long. Unfortunately, it took me decades to realize that. Colleagues publishing well funded studies about slums they never set foot on and where I witnessed data fraud: their students were afraid to go there and they didn’t actually collected the data. Yes, there’s that too.

I’m not sure what else I can do. Some of my friends urge me to share with them the original (to them) perspective I have on the American election. I am just one independent scholar, away from home and with limited resources. I hoped that our countries could learn from the failed American experiment. I don’t think I am being successful in getting the dots connected beyond my immediate circle.


As Lenin put it, what is to be done?

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well, reading your answer, perhaps indonesia now is not in as dire situation as brazil or other post-colonial countries.

i have been saying to everyone that reading history of humanity, where oppression may actually be the norm, i don’t care how unequal indonesia gets, as long as its citizens can work and live in dignity.

specifically as long as its citizens get job guarantee and basic income, per its constitution mandate, i accept that corruption and oligarchy would always exist in indonesia.

however, i think i may be naive as oppression is the anti-thesis of dignity, hence they cannot co-exist.

well, reading the swedish experience, there is nothing to do but revolution and then reform. lives are going to be lost, any prosperity destroyed temporarily, and suffering would increase, also momentarily.

i am at a loss for more answers now, so let me gather my thoughts. :slight_smile:


I am sorry for the pessimistic tone. However, as much as I try to turn this cube around, it’s still a cube and not a sphere. Of the half a dozen best minds in political science in Brazil, I’ve personally worked with most and interact with them daily.

My feeling is that we are paying the price of comfortably sitting our asses in the Ivory Tower, content with the bureaucracy of grant-writing and publishing without daring to explore new models to interpret reality. After all, by definition, they would be tentative and the imperative of publishing and applying for grants always took the priority.

Folks are busy in interpreting and reinterpreting “how we got here” and also falling victim of the firehose of outrage: bolsonaro and his mob do something absurdly anti-constitutional every single day. And every single day, that’s everyone’s priority.

Like in the USA, the fascist movement was successful in keeping us all busy responding to the most recent scandal or atrocity.

But that’s not how political strategy is done. It’s a long term endeavor.

You see what I mean? We can’t seem to organize and spare a group for a think tank that will refrain from responding to the “daily crime against humanity”. This way, we are on our way to losing again.

The situation in the USA is even worse. The structural problems here are things that I’m not sure even have a solution. Nobody expected whole economic niches to reach maximal capital concentration and complete cartelization. This is only going to crystalize during the pandemic.

The American civil movement does not have a memory of ever having had a national public health system. It is scary that Medicare for all is the solution “most to the left”: medicare is a health insurance, it doesn’t cover all costs and 43% of Americans on medicare had medical bills exceeding their assets.

But the American society is the most self-centered in the world given its imperialistic nature. As an “alien”, my ideas cause amusement but I don’t feel my colleagues actually appreciate the gravity of the situation. To even try to solve the health care crisis requires a decenial plan.

That’s not even a item for public conversation in an immediatist society such as is the American. Decenial plan? Quinquenial plan? What’s that?

However, ALL their structural problems can only be approached long term because, and I insist on this, this is a failed experiment.

Brazil still has a national health system. It is attacked every day by the fascist movement but it’s not that easy to destroy a huge institutional system. Our higher education and graduate education system are being attacked every day, promotions were frozen and most scholarships will not be renewed. Yet, we still have it. It can still be rebuilt.

In the USA, there is nothing to “re” build: it has to be done from scratch.

All that I’m writing here I do so from the privileged position of an independent scholar. Because you just can’t say it in institutional Academia here. I saw what happened in several universities and it is not pretty.

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would reply later… :slight_smile:

This has been an interesting discussion to follow. It seems that different post-colonial nations all have some similar and some quite different problems to worth through (as @marilia point out, not even the US has strong institutional foundations in many areas!). I had never really appreciated structural inequality until I moved to Brazil.

I generally agree with @surya’s sentiment that real improvements can only be achieved through mainstream public outreach and political change. Campaigns for the equality of race, gender, sexuality, etc. show that this is possible, and social equality may be able to make similar advances. However, political advocacy also seems to be the most difficult, uncertain and long-term way to proceed and I am personally more in favour of a more targeted approach focused on what we can do on the margin: if we can use ideas from MMT, universal basic income and services to facilitate independent academics then this seems like a great place to start, and I can think of ways to go forward from here. This is related to Theory of Change vs. Action - I have ideas about what I could start doing to promote both mainstream and marginal changes, but I can only really see a clear path to change in the marginal case. If we do improve the options for independent academia (particularly if they lead to positive externalities for society), then this would provide an excellent example to use for advocates working on mainstream changes.

Where should we start with improvements? Given the large number of academics that are losing employment and the lack of positions to apply for in the aftermath of the pandemic, I think we need to work on 1) promoting the idea that independent work is both a possible, acceptable and in many cases favourable, alternative to a traditional academic career, and 2) finding ways for independent scholars to get an income that covers reasonable living expenses. An ideal case would be to have some form of UBI or job guarantee for scholars, but a more realistic alternative would be to provide information on (and possibly services that assist with) finding contract work, teaching, or research. I think a key aspect to focus on here is the flexibility of duration and location - academia tends to enforce fixed locations and long duration positions, while independent scholars seem to be in a better position to work in roles that require short-term or remote expertise. I think that contract work is generally viewed negatively (e.g. the rise of the gig economy) but in my experience, the flexibility it provides for both employees and employers is very beneficial. IGDORE has started to work towards point 2 with our research consultancy but it is still very much a work in progress.

I also think @marilia did make a good point about Academia having been too comfortable and missing many warning signs that lead up to the current political situation. I’m a physical scientist and so I don’t know how obvious those signs really were, but I expect that for most academics it’s simply easier to ‘go with the flow’ of academia rather than to try and influence the direction the river is going. In that case, practising independent scholarship should make academics more active participants in political and social discourse, as setting your personal direction is an implicit part of working independently and to do so you have to be more informed about the direction society is moving as a whole. This may be in conflict with the standards of academia: e.g. the Mertoninan norm of disinterestedness, and progressive codes of scientific conduct calling for academic independence to be guarded against personal and political interests. I’m not entirely sure how to resolve this - should academics be limited to pointing out that our river is headed for a waterfall, or can we also take on the responsibility for trying to change the direction of the river?

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Hi all,

This is just to:

  • let you know that I read @Gavin’s comment
  • that I agree with its main points and that some of them are tangential to concerns about the several (very different and perhaps ideologically conflicting) perspectives on knowledge brokering
  • that I have been giving a lot of unstructured thought to the potential impact of independent scholarship in societies in general, not only post-colonial environments

Let me put some structured thought on it and maybe we can pluck some topics out of this brainstorm and organize them into something. I don’t know what type of something this would be, though.

And yes, Gavin, having spent decades in formal academia, coming from an academic family (I was practically born inside the Un. of Sao Paulo), our perspective on social change is completely different if compared to the colleagues still there. I am not yet sure how to put it, but there is a fog that lifts and an intellectual freedom that is invisible while we’re still there.

More later!

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I’m having a thought here… Let’s say human needs could be separated into material, intellectual, and spiritual elements…

Why would humans not want their fellow humans to satisfy their minimum material needs? Say, a basic service of health and education, a basic job and income…

Does the intellectual and spiritual need of humans play a factor here? Meaning, humans actually get off intellectually and spiritually seeing others lack their minimum material needs… Or they have been inculcated intellectually and spiritually to not let all humans obtain their minimum material needs…

Could humans of opposing ideologies/etc. (satisfying intellectual needs) and religion/etc.(satisfying spiritual needs) agree that all humans deserve a decent service of health and education, a decent job and income?

The answer so far has been NO, even at scandinavian countries… Witness the rising anti-immigrant sentiment there…

So what is to be done, indeed? :slight_smile:

good lessons throughout for our respective countries… am following up on this… :slight_smile: