Monday, 2 July 2012

Is Science Fundamentalist?

An opinion posted on the Hindu paper labelled The curse of science fundamentalism paints the woes of man made cataclysms as the rotten fruits of scientific fundamentalism. There paper sites Chernobyl & Fukushima nuclear disasters as well as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs along with a number of quotes from Arundati Roy's book, The Greater Common Good. I cannot fully agree with the author of this article for I feel that there are a certain number of Non sequitur statements.

For starter, are we talking about the same science that has created the Internet, the telephone, the solar panel, the aeroplane, peniciline, the polio vaccine, and million other technological innovations sprouting on a daily basis from the meticulous research of academic scientist? If so, we have a dilema, and if not then what science are we talking about.
Cell imaging of mitosis
(cell reproduction) in progress.

AIDS virus through an electron microscope

Nano carbon-tubes will one day
replace steel cables and open the way
for a space elevator to be built
First picture of an extra-solar planet
taken by the ESO VLT telescope.

Merger of two galaxies as seen
by the Hubble space telescope
The nuclear bombs were a culmination of a race between Nazi Germany and the USA, the later won that race and we know the conclusion of it, however bitter the taste of it I fear to think of what would have happened had the Rakshasa Hitler crossed the line first.

The nuclear tragedies of Fukushima and Chernobyl are a direct consequence of human error and deceit, not of scientific blindness. Humanity's growth and thirst of energy combined with the greed of corporations have lead to these accidents. The lessons learnt are precisely that these technologies cannot be entrusted into the hands of business corporations controled by capitalistic market demands. in fact I would advocate the need for such nuclear stations to be under the control of independent scientific bodies, devoid of financial and political pressures. However, the real solution will only come when we are able to master sustainable sources of energy such as solar, wind, tidal, bio-fuels and even fusion reaction. Again, all these coming out of the realm of scientific research.

Finally, to respond to the article's example of the Bhopal gas tragedy, it is again a direct consequence of corporate greed and our own governmental agencies incompetence for letting such a dangerous plant operate without the required safety norms (see the report in the link)

A good point

Science does not have all the solutions, we need to learn from our inheritance.

However, Mr Sukumaran (author of the Hindu article) makes a very valid point, and that is that as a collective human race we fail to learn the lessons of our ancestors. For this he quote the very pertinent words of an Americna-Indian chief 160 years ago, and I quote:
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of a pony, and man, all belong to the same family. The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Chief Seattle, 160 years ago when his people were asked to leave their land now called Seattle
Mr Sukumaran makes the point that We have to learn precious lessons from tribal people on an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle. But we have only displaced them, damming their rivers in the name of the greater common good. He goes on to argue that in the name of the Greater Good, many of our leaders have done wrong to the country. This is a very interesting debate, one that I would not like to take a categoric stand, for I feel that there it is all a question of balance between the pressures for the need of progress and the importance of preserving our heritage, cultural, artistic, social, economic, and environmental.

The bottom line I feel, and I think is also one of the points made in the article, is that our actions and decisions needs to be made in the name of sustainability. Should the introspection of the proposed actions reveal to be measures unsustainable for the future, then we should abandon or plan a programmed phase out of the process.

But one thing is for sure, Science is fundamental in our quest for understanding but not an exclusive path.