If there is a lesson to learn from the whirlwind of our times, it must be that the world we’ve built, the one we assume provides sturdy grounds to our steps and thoughts, is but a sandcastle surrounded by waves. Fragility envelops us, sand disguised as concrete, our heartfelt certainty of a better future rapidly collapsing into the sea.
Keeping the castle from crumbling into the waves is, and has always been, the product of relentless work. Structures and institutions don’t simply exist but are constantly re-created, for better or for worse, brought to life each time a form is filled, a category used, a rule invoked, a person hired, a reason given. When this maintenance work stops, when the laborious act of putting back the stolen sand into castle-like shapes halts, that mountain of amalgamated particles, those shapes standing in the horizon, that world we have imagined disappears, in rapid succession, one grain at a time.
Science is a sandcastle that once seemed like a fortress. It is not just an ideal, some Platonic object floating beyond the cave of our existence. Science is a collection of bodies and materials, conjoined by the shared, distributed, messy yet systematic study of the worlds we inhabit. A sandcastle of people and practices.
Over the last century, many walked through science’s ever-expanding, promise-filled hallways. Always a brittle project, persistent institutional work, expansive state policies, and mountains of investments, revived and reinvented science over time, transforming what was once a gentlemanly hobby available only to the very privileged and the very few into a motor of industrial growth, a pillar of education, and a language for collective sensemaking and justification. This building was always imperfect, of course, hiding in its promises the unequal structures of power and countless unintended consequences that characterize our incomplete modern world—empire, coloniality, capital, and oppression lurk in its hallways as they do elsewhere. Modern science is not without problems. But it has been a building always recognizably in the making, always under revision, where critique could sometimes be transformed into the mortar for a more hospitable home for all.
It may not be altogether apparent, but the sandcastle of science is slowly falling into the sea. Scientists may have never had as much public repute as they do at present—between 2005/09 and 2017/22, the proportion of Americans agreeing with the statement that “the world is a lot better off because of science and technology” grew from 13% to 27%. Yet here and there, scientists and their institutions face increasing forms of duress. In some cases, their trials are extreme, public, and overtly political. This was the experience of social science in Hungary, where Viktor Orban’s government expelled the Central European University from its home in Budapest, forcing its academics to hastily relocate from to Vienna to avoid further persecution. Similar forms of maltreatment are found in the United States, where some local governments explicitly target research on race and equity that they find politically distasteful, placing bans, restrictions, and other devices on the generation and dissemination of knowledge. In other cases, the tribulations are less visible, experienced as small, private nudges that chip away the value of scientist’s expertise in public discussions around key social problems. From climate change and matters of healthcare to esoteric debates about monetary policy, the spaces for deliberation where scientists used to be key actors are becoming noisier and more congested.
The problem science confronts is not due to its claims and findings but with its broader context. Like other public-facing human activities, the type of science that becomes relevant for our collective problems coexists with other kinds of knowledge within a larger public ecosystem. This ecosystem has fundamentally changed through a combination of political shifts and institutional transformations tied to how knowledge and information are generated and shared. Today science competes for voice and relevance with other actors that benefit from the affordances of this new arrangement, from merchants of doubt that mimic the modes and arguments of scientific traditions for their benefit to media “influencers” who make a living from the markets for attention of the new public sphere where marketability, not expertise, are what matters. Wave after wave, word after word, simulated debate after simulated debate, the edifice crumbles, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, falling inescapably into the sea. The work done to repair it is no longer enough. The waves are simply too strong.
In making sense of the woes of science in the early twenty-first century, this book explores a notable case: it investigates the troubles faced by science in Mexico in recent years. This is a completely opportunistic choice. Given its proximity to the United States and historical ties to the Global North through flows of people, equipment, ideas, and policies, Mexican science reflects many of the same features as science elsewhere. Mexico itself is also far from exceptional. A large economy produced by a diverse citizenry, Mexico has been the site of intense forms of modernization for nearly a century. Mexican science is distinct, however, as it is comparatively a weaker social institution than its peers elsewhere in the region. The 349 researchers per million in Mexico are eclipsed by the 1,231 per million in Argentina, 888 from Brazil, 763 from Uruguay, and 510 from Chile. Modernization, truncated.
Precisely because of this relative fragility, science in Mexico is a testbed of how institutions we take for granted can quickly break down. It provides an extreme example, almost a model of what can happen elsewhere. Mexican science isn’t an outlier but a canary in the coal mine, responding to the first signs of the otherwise imperceptible dangers that await others as the waves eroding their work increase in strength.
1.1 Science from Mexico
The story that I explore in this book is deeply personal. Growing up in Mexico as the son of two scientists—my parents are professors in biochemistry and microbiology—science was a constant presence in my life. The smell of reactants and of yeast growing exponentially in their warm, shaking beakers is certainly among my earliest olfactory memories.
It’s hardly surprising that, growing up, I found comfort and familiarity in a collection of short books on science, La Ciencia Desde Mexico (Science from Mexico). Although I carried an interest from home—partly programmed, as one is, by my parent’s professions—finding ways of exploring science as a teen, of opening a world which seemed so near yet so esoteric, wasn’t trivial. School textbooks were fine but often disappointing. The internet was a still unspoken word. And the wealth of popular science magazines that existed in places like the United States were inaccessible in Mexico. La Ciencia Desde Mexico was my answer, a unique collection of approachable and engaging books written by Mexican scientists, spanning even more than what I could ever consume. A feast. A celebration. A key for a locked door. A window into many worlds. One written by people I could see myself reflected onto.
Founded in 1984, La Ciencia Desde Mexico was a monument to the efforts of a relatively small community to make their craft—science—legible to broader publics. Backed by the country’s federal science council, the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia (CONACyT), the collection grew from a handful of volumes to more than 250 by 2016. When it celebrated its 30th anniversary, it spanned a vast array of topics, from archaeology and the history of astronomy to epigenetics, cosmological theories about the origins of the universe, urban growth and ecology, and the physics of black holes. In an unassuming way, each volume sought to make science digestible, accessible, popular. It tried to sow the seeds for la Ciencia en México (science in Mexico), one page at a time. I’ve yet to see a similarly ambitious project of science communication elsewhere in the world.
Much like the books that I bought in my youth, now gathering dust thousands of miles away from me, La Ciencia Desde Mexico loses its luster day by day. The rush of publications from the past—reflecting, perhaps, the imperfect promise of science as a motor of progress deployed by previous governments—has slowed to a trickle. Neglected by its patrons and audiences, the collection is a metaphor of science itself, of how la Ciencia en Mexico became an afterthought during times of change, uncertainty, and crisis.
FIGURE 1 – La Ciencia desde Mexico in numbers. Frequency of publications per year, 1986-2022.
The decline of La Ciencia desde Mexico as a cultural and editorial project is not simply an isolated example but serves as an indicator of larger systemic malinvestments that defined science policy in the country and that continue to do so at a time when robust scientific communities are critical. The challenges faced in Mexico as elsewhere require both new forms of social organization and a strong foundation in organized knowledge, spanning across domains. As a country rich in traditions, biodiversity, resources, and people, tracing a better, fairer collective future in Mexico must involve engaging with and utilizing scientific knowledge to some degree. This is a generalizable sentiment: from climate change to new pandemics, from puzzles of public administration to questions about the regulation of agricultural systems, there is no escaping the central role of scientific knowledges as an essential element of the scaffolds that will allow us to reach safer and more resilient futures.
Studying the troubles experienced by science in Mexico does not imply, however, attempting to re-enact some romanticized past. There is nothing glamorous about the way science in Mexico was managed; there is very little we can celebrate. As elsewhere, science in Mexico was and continues to be structured by inequalities. These reflected both broad historical trends—specifically, the centralization of political and economic power in the nation’s capital—as well as more purposeful interventions by various governments over the past half century to foster centers of excellence far from the institutions that served the masses. Inequality by history and design.
We gain some evidence of this in how resources are distributed across institutions. Those in Mexico City, particularly the ones closest to the development of science over the long twentieth century, are the recipients of the greatest levels of support. The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, arguably the oldest and most prestigious university in the country, receives about $6,970 per student from the federal government. The Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez, serving the population of Oaxaca, 280 miles away from the sphere of influence of Mexico City, receives a paltry $2,350 per student.
Just like political centralization shaped the map of opportunities and institutions across Mexican science, so have targeted investments made by the government in the pursuit of excellence. Starting in early post-revolutionary times, successive Mexican governments invested in creating sites where world leading science would take place, away from the precarity of the institutions that served the masses. Across several measures, these research-oriented organizations have enjoyed substantially more support from the government than teaching-oriented universities. Yet even among these, inequalities persist. The highly ranked Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados of the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (CINVESTAV), established in 1961 as part of a concerted movement to professionalize science in Mexico and a motor of innovation in the country, receives about $185,000 per full-time researcher (in the order of $45,800 per each of its 3,200 students). The Colegio de México, COLMEX, founded in 1940 to host humanists and social scientists from the Spanish exile and which, over time, evolved to become a key player in the professionalization of high-level government bureaucrats, receives around $225,000 per full time academic (or $92,000 per each of the 450 students enrolled at the institution).
Inequalities in Mexican science are striking, but so is the meagerness of the budgets, dwarfed by the levels of support observed in research-intensive institutions elsewhere. At UC San Diego, our budget is roughly equivalent to $58,300 per student—considerably more than even the most elite institutions in Mexico (COLMEX excluded)—exceeding $1.5 million per academic. This is even before even considering external grants that amount to around $2 billion in direct support for research per year. We are not outliers. The structure of financing of higher education across research-intensive institutions in the United States is quite similar. Elite private institutions like Harvard University have a ratio of expenses per academic closer to $5 million. Even considering the relative purchasing power of money, science in Mexico is nothing short of miraculous. It is handled on a shoe-string budget, a monument to the resilience and creativity of its members rather than to the concerted support of the state. In effect, to say that it is “under attack” in Mexico is a confused sentence. Despite the cyclical rhetoric about science as a motor of progress, an object that requires attention and investment, science has been constantly eroded in Mexico for a long time, a seed planted only to be left in the dark.
1.2 Science in the New Public Sphere
What does Mexican science tell us? With meager budgets and little state support, it has never occupied the top of the country’s social, political, or economic agendas. It was kept together by the work of a relatively small community of scientists, researchers, and academics that worked within the constraints of an always austere world. They survived, however, creating niches and spaces for their craft.
This precarious situation has worsened in recent years. Following the election of a new and ostensibly left-wing government in 2018, Mexican scientists and their institutions lost further institutional grounds and levels of public support. The work that once used to suffice to keep things together, to maintain the fragile project of science and academia in Mexico, is not keeping pace. One grain at a time, the castle is eroding.
What made the work once deployed to keep the castle from crumbling now so ineffective? The cases that I will examine in this book point at three interrelated processes as central to understand the new politics of knowledge in the early twenty-first century.
The first process involves the transformation of the public sphere, a shift that most of us have seen and experienced in recent years. Coined by the German sociologist and philosopher Jurgen Habermas, the concept of the public sphere has been central to understanding how liberal democratic societies were forged in connection to specific technologies of information sharing and dissemination over the course of the past two centuries. The massive, popular, accessible newspapers that emerged in the 19th century were key for fostering ideas of togetherness and commonality in societies that had been historically fragmented by space and politics. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, without the type of widely accessible newspapers that emerged two centuries ago, the shared idea of “the public” would likely not exist, and neither would the type of large, state bureaucracies meant to serve it.
These cultural institutions, and the professions that developed around them like editors and journalists, have lost the centrality they once had. Once curated by editorial experts who controlled (admittedly, in partial ways) the flow of information among their audiences, the public sphere is now an accelerated economy of attention and clicks, a series of interactions distributed across private platforms where the traditional boundaries of professions and organizations are significantly blurred. In this new platformed public sphere, authority around facts comes not from credentials or affiliations as it might have in the past when they were conveyed through the labor of editors but from metrics of monetized engagement. The logic here is not one of experts but of influencers, of facts acquiring their facticity not through demonstration, institutional pedigree, and authoritative arguments but likes, shares, and retweets. The market for attention that characterizes information consumption at present thus changes what kind of information and narratives travel and how they do so, favoring those that engage larger sections of the market. Expertise do not guarantee success. Clicks just might.
This change to the character of collective conversations is tied with a second shift: the emergence of new kinds of public intellectuals who have come to occupy strategic and critical positions in our shared media-sphere. This phenomenon is captured more broadly in Emily Hund’s The Influencer Industry. Once the economics of the public sphere moved away from traditional modes of information curation and dissemination (notably, newspapers and print media) the charismatic anchors from the past were replaced by a new generation of savvy individuals who cultivated audiences and respectability, one click at a time.
This was also the case among cohorts of public intellectuals that, shifting away from the dwindling audiences and crumbling platforms of traditional media, sought refuge in blogs, substacks, Instagram, Twitter and so forth. There, and untethered from established learned institutions, they could freely occupy the role of authoritative experts for their cultivated audiences. Consider, for example, classic figures like Pierre Bourdieu, Simone de Beauvoir, or Stuart Hall who, a few generations ago, linked social movements and scholarly networks of thinkers, through their radical books, newspapers, and magazines. Unlike these more ‘traditional’ intellectuals, new “influencer intellectuals” do not derive their repute and legibility from established networks and social movements but, rather, from the audiences they have crafted over time through recurring interventions in the media-sphere. People like Matt Yglesias, Nate Silver, and Emily Oster—putative experts in something but overall untied to established networks of expertise—would be prominent examples of this new influencer intellectuality.
By shifting the tone of public conversations, the platformization of media consumption and the rise of influencer intellectuals had distinct consequences on how science was consumed by the public. This had notable effects, including the proliferation of new forms of misinformation. Yet this structural change was not directly responsible of making less effective the strategies that once maintained scientific institutions in place. These were tested by a third shift, namely, the recent realignment of political and intellectual elites.
In his celebrated book, Elite Capture, political theorist Olufemi Taiwo brings to our attention the way elites often maintain a solid grasp over social institutions, even in times of apparent change and transformation. The long and durable legacies of empire and colonization are part of this hold, limiting access to critical conversations about our collective futures to the same kind of people who have always been “in the room”.
Scientists and intellectuals more generally have had an uneasy position in relation to elites. Intellectuals have certainly served cultural and political elites, to the point of having been fully fledge members on many occasions. They informed state bureaucracies with their expertise. They often occupied interstitial spaces where they influenced and shaped the policies of state elites. And they translated and justified the logics of oppression in a type of rationalized appeasement meant to present a single given version of the future as the only reasonable possibility.
Yet intellectuals have also occupied a critical position against elite interests. Jean Paul Sartre figures largely as a representative of this mode of intellectualism. And more recently, generations of critical theorists—from Judith Butler to Sara Ahmed—have done much the same, speaking truth to power, and challenging the categories that encode and naturalize oppression. We can even see similar examples elsewhere and closer to “science” as imagined by the broader public. For years, scientists mobilized through organizations ranging from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Federation of American Scientists to the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs to challenge the militarization of science. And closer to our daily media-spheres, people like Carl Sagan, perhaps one of the most prominent science communicators in recent history, often strayed away from discussions about astronomy and extraterrestrial life to engage in a real critique of American economic inequality in the late twentieth century.
Maintaining an arms-length relation with political elites was essential for many scientists and intellectuals in the twentieth century. It created a buffer that distanced them from the political consequences of various forms of technoscience without losing the support and legitimacy granted by their access or proximity to the state. Science, after all, required funding and being critical though not dismissive of the elite apparatus gave many the possibility of career stability and support. At the same time, it provided ways of shaping policy in substantive ways. The Pugwash Conferences offer a particularly clear example: at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, this group of notable scientists and intellectuals originally brought together by Bertrand Russell in 1954 became a valuable conduit for the flow of information and the reduction of tensions throughout the Cold War, making use of the networks of scientists who had the ears of presidents, premiers, prime ministers, and their generals.
These linkages between scientific communities and political elites have changed over time. Based partly on a larger shift away from publicly funded big science in the late 1990s, scientific elites might still occupy interstitial positions but do so with less capacity to alter the politics of the state. Across several domains, the ability of scientists and their representative organizations to move the discourse within the halls of the state is much reduced. They might still have a voice, but one that can be muffled by others for attention.
1.3 Rethinking rooms
The three processes that I outlined above—the platformization of the public sphere, the emergence on new influencer intellectuals, and a shift in the relations between scientific and political elites—are distinctive features of Mexican science’s recent problems. The Mexican case is peculiar, though. We often associate the erosion of scientific institutions with the rise of rightwing authoritarian politics. This is captured in how scholars and commentators alike represent the politics of science in the United States during Donald Trump’s administration, the politicized interventions in Hungarian universities throughout the government of Victor Orban, or the equally violent attacks and constraints placed on Turkish academic institutions by Recep Tayyip Ergodan’s state. That the motto “We believe in science” is almost reflexively tied to leftwing politics is, perhaps, the best indication of this commonplace.
Mexico is a peculiar case, however, where the erosion of scientific institutions is linked to the rise of an ostensibly leftwing political project. Following the momentous electoral triumph of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his party, the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (MORENA) in 2018, the Mexican state embarked on what it identifies as a “fourth transformation”, a fundamental change in the structures of society that mirrors previous “historical transformations” in the country (the dubious historiography of this perspective is a matter for others to discuss). An integral element of this transformative project has been reshaping science away from a “neoliberal” past and towards the service of “the people”. Sodden with the language of nationalism, authenticity, populism, and historical exceptionalism, science is being reconstituted from the top. Government agencies are changed, academic institutions intervened, funding cut and redirected, and laws rewritten. While lofty ideals of “science for the people” may populate the speeches of Mexican administrators, the reality on the ground is unreconcilable: corrosive austerity, rather than much needed support, is what defines Mexico’s reinvented national science. Disillusion is everywhere: as Science magazine wrote in 2019, the “initially warm relations between Mexico’s academic community and the country’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, have decidedly cooled.”
The crisis of Mexican science might seem contradictory, not the least given how academically successful scientists associated with progressive causes occupy prime positions in the current administration. Yet contrasting with campaign promises for better and more generous funding, these scientists have now become administrators of a new austerity that painfully reflects the precarity of the past. This contradiction is purely perspectival; it exists only if we reduce politics to a bidimensional struggle between organized opposing factions, vying for control of the state and its extensive apparatus. When understood as contests between well-rooted elites, between groups who control resources independently of their formal political affiliations, the apparent contradiction of a left-wing government dismantling scientific institutions rapidly disappears. What matters is not the ostensible politics of formal parties in power or discourses decoupled from action but how these actors represent elites in their alternating control over social and economic institutions.
I am neither the first nor the last to observe this. As early as 2006, one of the spokespersons for the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, already had written about Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the “egg of the snake” of neoliberalism—a continuation of past politics disguised as left-wing reinvention. If anything, the case of science in Mexico and how it is contested, reshaped, and destabilized by realignments of elites suggests that the traditional vocabulary of “left” and “right” that comes from our parliamentary traditions of formal politics is inadequate for making sense of both the challenges at present and possibilities ahead when thinking about knowledge collectives in the Anthropocene. Reducing the case to “politics done wrong” is to assume that the categories and distinctions of the past suffice, to forget that they too are complicit and in need for change. To use the metaphor so eloquently deployed by Olufemi Taiwo, this would be thinking about merely “regulating traffic” into and between the elite spaces where decisions are taken. The challenge—one that is closer to the critiques of groups like the Zapatistas—isn’t alternating elites or making those cloistered spaces more representative in some classical way, but “rebuilding rooms […] building and rebuilding actual structures of social connection and movement”. This is partly the task in this book. It is, of course, a critique of what is happening with the sandcastle of science in Mexico. But it is also an invitation to think about what other structures this sand could be forged into.
1.4 Science in times of turbulence
The remaining chapters of this book explore recent controversies in Mexican science as a chance to think about how knowledge is reconfigured in the new public sphere. While the cases might seem specific to Mexico, they are each a vignette that illustrates the problems faced by science elsewhere.
I start in chapter 2 with discussions about elite capture in Mexican science. After a brief overview of the history of science in Mexico, I look into policies changes over the past 5 years in connection to the discourse “neoliberal science” recently used by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, the country’s top science ministry, to coordinate its national strategy. From its beginning, the current administration has sought to distance the policies that they present from those adopted in the past invoking the idea of neoliberalism in opposition to other, more populist concepts in the political dictionary. Whereas science in the past was about “privileges” and “mafias”, they argue, their science is about “the people” and the valorization of “original knowledges”. Focusing specifically on funding patterns in relation to indigenous science, the chapter shows how current policies are merely an extension of past practices, logics, and hierarchies of value—replicating the type of imperial, neoliberal science that it so vocally speaks against. While a continuation in logics, the chapter also shows how profound structural changes tied to the reconfiguration of intellectual and political elites have taken away control of scientific institutions from scientists themselves, placing them in squarely in the hands of a more powerful, centralized state bureaucracy. Rather than nurturing diversity and exploration, they are sowing a veritable epistemic monocrop.
Chapter 3 steps outside the meeting rooms and hallways of government offices to investigate how the boundaries of expertise are contested in the new public sphere. Focusing on the role of prominent public intellectuals that have gained notoriety in recent years, the chapter looks at how expertise around politics, economics, environment and statistics were contested on social media in the context of discussions about the future of the country. This chapter serves as an opportunity to explore how new groups of elite intellectuals create couplings with the existing political apparatus to prevent, rather than enable, change—even when their politics are ostensibly transformative and progressive. Here, I study how some members of a small group of scholars and academics formed in 2012 to “transform the agenda and influence the political action of those in power to present more egalitarian, sustainable, and open possibilities” became allies of the state when contesting the legitimacy of expertise around key public debates. As the chapter demonstrates, using their elite positions and their influence in the new public sphere, these intellectuals effectively eroded the boundaries of science by challenging its legitimacy in favor of that of a rather unscientific state.
The fourth chapter examines how these novel intellectual cadres use established platforms of the scientific community to disseminate fake research with clear political aims—undermining science to bolster party politics. The chapter looks into the case of the use of ivermectin by the government of Mexico City during the COVID-19 pandemic as a means for treating the symptoms and progression of the disease. Faced with the prospect of a calamitous winter in 2021, and seeking to avoid politically unpalatable lockdowns, the top authorities of Mexico City’s local government decided to provide 200,000 doses of ivermectin and other varied medications to the population for free seeking to avoid a wave of deaths and disease. As time passed and questions were asked about this peculiar decision, the same authorities published an article on a platform used to share social science papers written by bona fide scholars. Further inspection of the circumstances surrounding this peculiar submission demonstrates the way elite intellectuals hacked established practices and infrastructures of science to bolster their political ends, with the unavoidable effect of further eroding the legitimacy and role of science in public and within the bureaucracies of the state.
The fifth and final chapter closes the book by considering lost opportunities in Mexican science. Rather than being the decolonizing, anti-imperialist science that it sought to be, the Mexican government’s brand of science is merely the past with new, cheaper, and more austere robes. Despite the fanfare, the words, and the empty discourses, despite the tweets, blog posts, and YouTube videos, science in Mexico is far from where it was once promised to be. What other kinds of science are possible? What other kinds of rooms could we built? In exploring these questions, I engage with debates from the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Naciona, EZLN, on science and education. In these, and in discussions about liberation and collectivity, I trace the outlines of the possible boundaries of science, expertise, knowledge and inclusion that could be enacted in a progressive present.
1.5 A note on methods
This book combines a variety of sources. I was fortunate to interview some of the first directors of the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia more than a decade ago for a project once abandoned but now retaken. These inform some of the historical context of chapter 2. Most of the remaining discussion is based on freedom of information requests to institutions in Mexico, as well as documents produced by institutions and organizations over time. Given the nature of some of the subjects of this book—influencers—most of the materials come from their digital traces, online interactions, YouTube contributions, and interviews in the Mexican media.
Like any other study of this kind, this one requires a note on positionality. As I wrote above, this is a story close to my heart. You see, the Mexico that I grew up in was the Mexico of most of the subjects of this book. I shared with them institutions, spaces, cultures, networks, and politics. Some, like Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, the current undersecretary for prevention and health promotion who remains in charge of much of the federal government’s response to COVID and is a subject in chapters 3 and 4, attended the same liberal private school as I did on a scholarship (this same institution, founded by progressive Spanish intellectuals in exile in the 1940s, was also home to other characters we will meet in the following pages). Others, like Elena Álvarez-Buylla, minister for science and technology, I met while I was in college, as I became politically involved in discussions around science and society. And yet others I bumped into, even if briefly and with a drink in hand, at parties of friends in the rocky neighborhoods around Mexico City. Though a bustling metropolis of millions, and while massive institutions serving hundreds of thousands of students, the elite university networks of Mexico City are surprisingly small. This is, in some respects, a story of us.
*This is a draft of the introduction of my new book project: Science in Turbulent Times: Politics, Expertise, and Change in Mexico