Democratic institutions are finding it increasingly difficult to govern the issues of our time; not only the economic, financial and social crisis. Depending on political orientations, there are different interpretations, for some of which we must now speak of a true degeneration of democratic systems. The specific analysis of the causes that determine said degeneration reveals that some of them are endogenous (e.g. systematic violation of democratic procedures and Rule of Law), while others are exogenous (e.g. economic and ecological dynamics).
Without claiming to provide the answer to the debate on the crisis of democracy, the Third Session of the World Congress for Freedom of Scientific Research proposes the following course of action and reflection: the scientific method is a fundamental tool for the life of the democratic method.
The consolidation of experimental science has historically been crucial for the success of non-authoritarian systems of exercise of power, which in turn enabled scientific rationality to become an increasingly widespread heritage. Science will continue to perform this function provided that the world of research and that of politics talk and debate with each other, strengthening themselves with their respective instruments to promote freedom.
In 2004, when the World Congress was founded, we urged – with Luca Coscioni and 51 Nobel Prize laureates supporting him – political institutions to defend research from fundamentalisms (especially those of religious nature) that threaten the open society. The name of the Congress was borrowed from the “Congress for Cultural Freedom” that in the postwar period gathered great personalities committed to combat totalitarianism. Today, we find ourselves in the midst of processes that have a huge impact on anthropology itself, such as revolutions in the field of digital or genomic technologies. If one wants to prevent that the democratic method is overwhelmed by external enemies and from more insidious internal enemies – populism, technocracies and other forms of power that only appear to be democratic – one must turn to science as well; it is necessary that the dialogue with politics reaches its full potential.
The Third Session of the World Congress is convened with the objective of bridging the gap between science and politics, highlighting the contribution that science can positively provide to strengthen individual freedoms and democratic institutions. Science must, above all, help the decision-making process to be based on facts. Without leaving room for absolute Truths and by opposing any form of ideological manipulation of reality, as often happens on the most controversial issues (from stem cells to animal testing). New frontiers of research can provide knowledge and tools that can help govern the polis in every field, from medicine to the environment. The affirmation of the supremacy of law and the effective democratic participation can draw further strength from scientific discoveries: the contributions made by neuroscience or by new communication technologies, just to name a few.
No technology is in itself good or bad, but its use will determine – through the democratic involvement of citizens – the positive or negative effects for each individual and for the ecosystem of which we are a part. It is therefore essential that the principles of individual responsibility and freedom are secured with the force of law. Science must continue to stand on the principle of fallibility, without seeking popular consent, but rather by opening itself to the confrontation with a properly informed public opinion. Democratic institutions must respect the autonomy of science and invest on those tools that can enhance the freedom of choice, by reducing the constraints stemming from all forms of power, political or otherwise.