Article written by DPDF 2009 Revitalizing Development Studies Fellow Javiera Barandiaran, featured in Science as Culture:
In 1990, Chile transitioned to democracy after 17 years of military rule. The new democracy built the country’s first environmental institutions and began efforts to revitalize science, among them attempts to connect scientific expertise to public decision-making. Just over a decade into these efforts, conflicts over the environmental impacts of large industrial projects began to multiply. These environmental conflicts were often also credibility contests, where the authority of science to speak to public issues was contested. Two such conflicts, a gold mine called Pascua Lama and a hydroelectric project called HidroAysén, enrolled several scientific teams, yet in each case the state made its final decision on each project autonomously from science. Though some scientists became central participants in each conflict, carving out for themselves access to needed resources that they used to practice ever-narrower forms of science, their credibility was called into question by many of their scientific colleagues. Chile’s scientific community fractured over how to define credible science. Divisive and decisive issues included the source of funding, ethics, access to resources, and being local. Although some scientists and non-scientists used boundary work to try to affirm the authority of science, no stable map of scientific credibility resulted from these efforts. Chile’s new democracy is more plural than its recent military dictatorship but still lacks adequate spaces in which to negotiate what counts as credible science. These experiences highlight the need to better understand how science fares through regime transitions and what it contributes to emerging democracies.