A call for an independent evaluation of the use of science by the World Bank Group. The Pehuenche-IFC-ENDESA tragedy.

By Theodore E. Downing, University of Arizona.


The following report was made by Downing to the American Association for the Advancement of Science Committee on Freedom and Scientific Responsibility on September 9, 1998 and was published in the November 1998 issue of the Society for Applied Anthropology Newsletter:

The International Finance Corporation, an arm of World Bank Group, and a major South American power company's failure to adhere to international standards for transparency, accountability and participation led to extensive damage to a small tribe of indigenous peoples in Chile. The IFC and ENERSIS-ENDESA redacted scientific evidence fundamental to the well-being, health and safety of innocent people in the pathway of investment opportunities (the Downing and the Hair reports).

Together, they broke their agreement to disseminate scientific results of an independent evaluation of an indigenous development foundation designed to mitigate the impact of the first of a series of dams. They withheld the report from reaching the tribe, NGOs and the Chilean government while the Company conducted critical negotiations for the relocation of the Indians by their second dam in Indian Territory, Ralco. Non-Indians on the foundation's governing board were provided with this knowledge. Indians were not. I failed to convince the Bank Group that it was violating its own policies. My internal complaints of human and civil rights of the Pehuenche were investigated by the highest level of the IFC and dismissed. As a result, the Pehuenche are subsidizing the IFC and ENDESA while they are being further impoverished and their culture is at risk.

On the global scale, what happens to the Pehuenche is insignificant - except, of course, to them. But this is not an isolated incident. Comparable incidences of "less-than-nothing-but-the-truth"; science and the misapplication of scientific procedures by Bank management and staff are being reported. Most recently, misapplied science yielded inaccurate assessments of Indonesia - directly harming investors and yielding instability. Warning flags are fluttering.

To raise questions about the responsibilities of scientific consultants working for multilateral agencies is, in the end, to raise questions about how the management and staff of these institutions use scientific inquiry to determine the realities they face in reaching decisions.

Misused science damages the economy and harms people. The integrity of the institutions rests on its scientific credibility.

The Bank Group proposes to reinvent itself and assume a pivotal role in supporting knowledge and information for development . This is the theme of its 1998 World Development Report (WDR) to be released in early October. The Bank's goal is worthy, but unobtainable without sound, verified information. To assure the Bank Group, its borrowers and those affected by its projects have reliable information, I call for an independent evaluation of the use of science by the World Bank Group. This evaluation should be undertaken by organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council and other leading scientific associations and national science organizations in countries with membership in the Bank. The evaluation should examine how research questions are selected, what scientific methods are used to validate or justify research findings, how consultants are selected to carry out Bank scientific work, how priorities are set for scientific inquiries, what provisions are made for external review, and what scientific responsibility does the Bank and its consultants have if they have knowledge of potential or actual damages to project affected peoples and the environment. Special attention would be placed upon provisions for the public dissemination of findings to the broader stakeholder communities.

Campaņa de apoyo a los Mapuche-Pehuenche, en conflicto Bio-Bio.

Derechos Humanos en España | Derechos Humanos en Chile

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