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Conversation with Dr. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares on the American Social and Political Framework, and Puerto Rico and the Coronavirus: Former Governor, Puerto Rico (4)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/04/01


Ricardo Rosselló Nevares holds a PhD in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering with a concentration in Developmental Economics. Rosselló continued his academic studies at the University of Michigan, where he completed a master’s degree and a PhD in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. After finalizing his doctoral studies, he completed post-doctoral studies in neuroscience at Duke University, in North Carolina, where he also served as an investigator. Dr. Rosselló was a tenure track assistant professor for the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus and Metropolitan University, teaching courses in medicine, immunology, and biochemistry. Dr. Rosselló’s scientific background and training also makes him an expert in important developing areas such as genetic manipulation and engineering, stem cells, viral manipulation, cancer, tissue engineering and smart materials. He discusses: American political extremes; and the coronavirus for Puerto Ricans.

Keywords: complexity, coronavirus, leadership, Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.

Conversation with Dr. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares on the American Social and Political Framework, and Puerto Rico and the Coronavirus: Former Governor, Puerto Rico (4)

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Looking at Canada, as a comparative metric, we have the similar situation with two dominant parties, but three minor to moderate-sized parties in terms of election numbers. In the United States, much more extreme with the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. You see a  bit with the Green Party and the Liberty Party.

I think you may see this with the Pirate Party or something. Extreme support of anything science-supporting in policy. I don’t know if it is thought out much beyond that. This binary of two extremes becoming more extreme, as you stated it.

It is, certainly, reflective of a condition of the United States that is concerning because when the wind blows with the United States. You don’t what other boats it is going to rock if not bump into because it $20,000,000,000,000+.

Only the European Union and the People’s Republic China have a similar kind of financial force. What are you seeing as some of the root sources of these divisions that  then lead to this bifurcation, this splitting into extremes in either direction?

Dr. Ricardo Rosselló[1],[2]*: I think this phenomena, even though it is occurring in the United States, as you said, is reverberating in many different parts of the world. I think there is a reason or several reasons for this. One, I think social media has changed the game.

There are a lot of voices, which is good. Now, the sort of negative symptom that I see. Unless, you make an outrageous claim. You really won’t get covered. Let’s take healthcare, you have three folks. One says, “I have this proposal: work with the insurance companies, work with choice. This and that,” sort of nuance.

Another says, “Let’s completely privatize healthcare.” Another says, ‘Let’s give healthcare completely for free.” Who do you think is going to get more attention?

Jacobsen: [Laughing]

Rosselló: It is, unfortunately in my view, the person who says, “Just give it for free,” versus the guy who says, “Privatize everything,” because it is a sort of a seemingly simplistic solution to a very complex problem. That’s a fell swoop.

I’m not diminishing. There are some things where solutions may be like that. I’m saying not all the solutions are like that. In fact, many are complex and nuanced. You need to think of secondary and tertiary effects.

What do I think keeps on happening? People see that the more extreme – I do not mean “extreme” derogatorily – or on the fringes that you make a statement, or the bolder the accusation or the bolder the statement, then the more coverage you’re going to get.

It is a symptom of something. Someone might have an interest analytical solution to one of these problems. Nobody cares. That’s one thing. A second thing, I lived this. I told myself as an element of discipline when I was governor, “I am not going to attack the opposition. I am going to oppose them on policy issues.”

The strength of the personal and negative attack, the effect of it, is so much greater than anything positive that you can do. Inevitably, a rational player in the game will always say, “If I want to get to do this, I will have to play by these rules and will have to get nastier.”

If Nancy Pelosi stands up and says, “I kind of disagree with President Trump.” It is not the same as saying, “That guy is crazy and has to be imprisoned.” What one of the two is going to get the headlines? That’s where I think this complexity is a little bit out of hand in a way.

Jacobsen: It’s our fault as journalists too. We play into this.

Rosselló: It’s everybody’s fault. It is like a chicken and an egg thing. People want to consume something. Take CNN, for example, CNN was – 20 years ago, 15 years ago – maybe, left-leaning, but center-left. It was sort of an editorial push.

Washington Post over here, as well. It has gone to a place, where it is very bold, strict statements that fly in the face and catch your attention. When you see that, and you’re producing as a media entity, you see; there’s been other media outlets that have tried to stay informing the news.

Those have died out. Again, taking just the news shows, I say “CNN.” But you could apply this to anyone. Back in the day, I remember watching with my grandfather Crossfire. It was the talking heads show. The rest was the news. Now, it’s the opposite. It’s like there’s an opinion show 50 minutes out of every hour, then it’s like “this happened.”

Because of the strength of that, there has been this emergent phenomenon. In my view, there is this big center. That was partially my calculation and I’ll tell you how I failed. There is this big center looking for rational solutions. Neither from the left or the right.

What is the rational solution to improve the quality of life of the people in my jurisdiction? Because the initial conditions in Puerto Rico are different than the initial conditions in Vancouver. Policy that might apply there might not apply here.

My view was, “I’m going to try to apply this scientific approach.” But because I was so tame, in the middle, I was sort of over-run by the corners. Then there’s another thing that you said. I want to be watchful. I don’t to pass judgment.

But I want to be watchful. I hear people say, “Let’s listen to science. Let’s listen to the experts.” I hope this doesn’t become a tag sentence that becomes cute. Because you can repeat it over and over again. There’s so much noise. They won’t be able to tell the difference.

I can envision two paths. Either we say it and we do it. I have some ideas on how we can get there. Or people say it. They will say it from both sides, but just use different data to support their claims.

Jacobsen: Sure [Laughing], which is primarily anti-scientific.

Rosselló: It is! It is. Even though, on the top layer of it, it is “trust science, trust science, trust science,” but it is really “trust science only if it fits into your storyboard.” Before, there was not a lot of information. People didn’t have enough information, perhaps, to make the correct choice.

Now, there’s so much information. I fear people have an innate feeling of something: “I like this” or “I like that.” They will pick-and-choose whatever data fits into that as opposed to being persuaded because the data is so strong on one side and so strong on the other.

To me, one of the clear issues is climate change. I make no apologies that climate change is happening and is happening at a very speedy rate. Not only do I say this as a scientist, I say this as somebody who had to lead a jurisdiction was the third hardest hit jurisdiction in global climate change in the world.

I – literally – saw an island off the coast of Puerto Rico called Palominito. It was there four years ago. It’s not there anymore. I’ve seen the hurricanes, of course. I have seen the coastlines. For Republicans, unfortunately, depends on your prism, to have veered into this opposition view of climate change – some of them, it seems ludicrous to me.

Because there’s no more conservative agenda in the galaxy than avoiding climate change.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rosselló: Somehow, some way, “if my opponent is here, I have to be in a stark contrast over here. Otherwise, I get railroaded.” There’s a lot of that happening. There’s two paths. It could unravel a little bit. My gut tells me: it’ll unravel for a little bit longer, then things will, like the ebbs and flows of waves, start coming back to the shoreline.

It is still concerning to see that that is the paradigm and whoever yells loudest and has the craziest claim has a seat at the table.

Jacobsen: In Canada, our most cited doctor is a epidemiologist named Gordon Guyatt. He makes the distinction between equity and autonomy in medical systems. Western European, most North Americans excluding the United States, value equity when it comes to healthcare.

So, then you get kind of a nationalized healthcare system, in the United States, they value autonomy more, so get privatization more in healthcare. So, he doesn’t make it in terms of a judgment, but the outcome you would expect in different situations of evaluation, intersubjective national evaluation of what matters in certain areas.

Even in Canada, he said ‘by accident’ to me. We don’t have pharmacare [Laughing]. Some Western European countries have pharmacare, which allows them to bargain better. In Puerto Rico, you have a situation in which healthcare and pharmacare are not present.

Yet, after your term in office, Puerto Rico has the coronavirus impacting it. There is a distance from other areas in which there may be more supplies to give the citizenry. How are Puerto Ricans handling the coronavirus? What is the situation for ordinary citizens?

Rosselló: I think it is similar to what is happening in the United States, but with a wider broken structural integrity. When you look at a black elephant event, like a pandemic, some say it is a black swan, because it is unexpected. I think we should expect pandemics.

We should embed them into the design of whatever it is that we are doing. Now, you could see countries that do that responding better. There’s a plethora of different factors. It is hard to compare a democratic society to an autocratic society and how they respond.

Whether you like it or not, that matters, but there are some things that I think are important in this. It’s one of the big things. If we move forward with this scientific mentality in the United States and in the world, I do believe there is a need to create what other places have created.

But we need to tailor it more to a Western mindset, which is a foresight capability. The way I see this is people talk about science and people talk about government. Let me go back philosophically to what I have found are the major differences between being a political figure and a scientist, I happen to be both.

The scientist, typically, explores ad nauseam, looks for every little thing, analyzes, has the whole map in front of them, but are reluctant to make a conclusion from it. They, typically – and by “typically,” I mean “we typically,” the political figure needs no evidence, a whim or an intuition if you will. Some have it; some don’t.

They can make a very clear and concrete determination based on it. If this is the starting point, if you agree with this concept that this is a starting point, and if we endeavour to merge the world’s of science and politics and policy, there needs to be some bridges made to approximate that.

To me, one possible solution, they may be many, which may be better. One possible solution is creating or establishing a basis of your government, like the judicial system, but a system of foresight that is there to do a few functions.

Number one, to care-take for longer term projects, one of the advantages, for example, which could be a disadvantage as well; one of the advantages that Qatar or one of those places has the autocratic rule saying, “The next 40 years, we are going to invest here. This is what is going to happen.”

The liability in the democratic system is I could come and say, “We’re going to invest here,” and then a few years later. Somebody comes to say, “No, no, scratch that, we’re going to invest here.” It might be good, but that might also be bad for long-term growth.

We need to start segregating some of these things that are infrastructure, for example. It needs to be always changing, but a longer term endeavour because, otherwise, you’re never going to see those results. Similarly, crisis and disaster management is something that’s rarely on the mind of elected officials.

Because they operate – their space of operation is solving the problems right ahead or looking forward to a brighter future, but avoiding all these inconveniences, avoiding earthquakes, avoiding pandemics. I see that one possible path is creating a foresight function, embed it into government.

You put scientists there. But also, you put project managers there. The idea is you have all of these people in a dormant state for some time planning, preparing, and doing these things with foresight, expecting, and helping.

In the dormant state, you help the leader develop his path. So, you give the leader, “Hey, here are all the conditions, these are all the things that we see. These are all of the facts. You create a path forward. These are the things that we see. These are the things that we need to look at, and consider.”

Say an earthquake, a hurricane, or a pandemic hit, then these teams, different to the rest of the political establishment, they’re ready to be activated, because they are thinking about this all the time. You couple this with project management, then you deploy.

Now, for example, the United States has FEMA. FEMA is another big bureaucratic monster. It gives a lot of money and that’s great. But it is nowhere near as effective. I’ve had this thought for four years. I tried to implement this in Puerto Rico.

It was a long-term path forward. The pandemic highlights why this is necessary. With the pandemic, you are battling a virus that is really 14-days ahead of you. A lot of policymakers that didn’t understand that were always going to be behind the curve.

They were reacting what is happening today. What is really happening, it is what you are projecting happening in 14 days. I think establishing that model will be very helpful. So, bringing it back to Puerto Rico and to the United States, I think they lack that model. Singapore has that model. Great Britain in some parts has that model.

Again, other factors, just by the sheer or the immediate reaction of some of these countries, “Hey, put a mask on”; whereas, others took months. The numbers are staggering in terms of the difference that one fact provided. I think there needs to be that bridge between science and policy, and politics.

There needs to be that institutionalized mentality of how we create this. I know it’s very raw how I foresee it. But I envision it as a judicial system if you will, which runs parallel and takes care of some of these things that are longer term and reacts to these phenomena.

To me, what is evidently clear, whether for good or for bad, complexity is going to keep increasing. If you have people thinking linearly in positions of power, they’re going to shoot themselves in the foot one time after the next.

Whereas, if you have people understanding complexity, maybe not controlling it, but, at least, understanding it, it changes the ballgame completely.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Former Governor, Puerto Rico.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 1, 2021:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2021:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


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