Is science another of those fanatical religions?
“Intellectual integrity made it quite impossible for me to accept the myths and dogmas of even very great scientists, more particularly of the belligerent and so-called advanced nations. Indeed, those intellectuals who accepted them were abdicating their functions for the joy of feeling themselves at one with the herd.”— Bertrand Russell 1872-1969.
Is science really serious when scientists claim that only science is authentic and all else is unreal? Has science lost its heart? Is science another of those fanatical tight-knit religions? Why is science being sold as the only route to human wisdom? Eons before modern science of the West came into being humankind existed here with all the wisdom which we claim we have today.
Science and technology in ancient India, China and Egypt have had their hoary past. Some of the leading western scientists paid their obeisance to the wisdom of those civilisations. Many of them have admitted that they built their views sitting on the shoulders of some of the thinker-philosophers of yore! In the true sense of the word, science is only a method to understand the working of this universe. In that sense, science is a great exercise, but to sell science as the be-all and end-all of human wisdom to the exclusion of all other fields of knowledge is the height of foolishness and short-sightedness. It is that institution of science that one has to shun.
In fact, science, as it is being practised now, is a highly materialistic enterprise. Consequently, it wants to maintain its hegemony and grip on the establishment. Any criticism of science is frowned upon even by the laypeople who have been thoroughly brainwashed to believe that science has the legitimate right to supremacy in this world. Some of the material comforts of technology like communications, transportation and electricity have added proof that the science base of these technologies is to be venerated. Scientists are so deluded by their invincibility that they have no patience to listen to any other view. There is no debate in this arena. As long as there is no debate, there will be no progress.
The upper castes among the scientists, the Nobels, the big-time grant collectors, the fat CV holders, the FRSs, the sarkari scientists (who were ready to sell the country to private companies), the thought leaders, etc., have built a strong fortress around them that no one will dare differ with their views. Once you get into that club, you could say anything and get away with it. The scientific establishment has found an easy way to keep outsiders at bay and keep its flock together. Its journals have what it calls the peer review system, which is the easiest way to eliminate all dissenting opinions.
In this area, medical science is at its worst. The drug and device lobbies have the monopoly for “scientific” publications here. For every industry-funded positive study there are, on average, five negative studies which do not get published and see the light of day in print for thinking people to read and understand.
This is the main reason why many complementary and alternative systems of medicine have been discouraged. Even the public's perception of them as not reliable came about because the main line medicine has tried its best to see that other systems of human healing are looked down upon albeit their antiquity and authenticity.
When you audit modern medicine at its best in the U.S., the results are anything but laudatory. The audit by Gary Null and colleagues, based on U.S. government figures, shockingly show that the whole establishment of modern medicine, in its present avatar, is the leading killer in that country. America spends the highest per capita expense for sickness care with the worst health scenario and the lowest longevity among the 14 industrialised countries surveyed!
The layman has a misconception about people living beyond 70 years these days. Most of them think that it is the increased life span due to the impact of hi-tech medical science. The truth is it is not life span but life expectancy, a statistical term used to mislead people. When infant mortality falls drastically and people have food to eat and a job to do with clean water to drink, they live longer but the contribution of modern medicine in this area is negligible.
Two examples will suffice. The British Army had 100% mortality among the grievously injured soldiers at Scutari in the Crimean War until Florence Nightingale went there. She brought it down to 40% in a month using buckets, soap, bandage, bread and soup alone, there being no medical help at that time as the British did not have any hospital there.
Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818 –1865), a Hungarian physician, showed that doctors washing hands between dissecting the dead body and delivering babies would bring down puerperal fever deaths significantly. He was using his keen sense of observation. His observation led him to deduct the cause of puerperal fever as transfer of poisons (now we call them germs) from the dead body to the parturient mother.
He also observed his best professor dying of the same puerperal fever after the student's scalpel cut his finger accidentally. Of course, Ignaz's colleagues ignored him and killed more and more women. They even admitted him to the mental hospital where he died due to desperation!
Even today the nosocomial infections kill patients by their thousands all over the globe with “big” doctors still disobeying the hospital routine of washing hands between patients!
That's because bacteria are becoming so resistant to common antibiotics that the phenomenon will bring about the “end of modern medicine as we know it,” warns Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO.
If science is measurement and measurement is science (Marie Curie), then there are lots of things all outs with sciences. If “science is making models, mostly mathematical constructs, which with verbal jargon are supposed to work,” (John von Newmann), then science is as good as dead. “There is no logic to science. Scientists create and adhere to scientific theories for what are ultimately subjective and even irrational reasons. It cannot be denied that the chief engine of human destructiveness has been the phenomenal success of science in the 20th century,” writes Paul Karl Feyerbend in his classic Against Method written in 1975 with its new 2010 edition published in New York. “...Asked why it was so important for him to be convincing people about his evolutionary ‘science' as ‘the only truth,' Richard Dawkins replied, “Because it's so beautiful — it's such a magnificent thing to live in the universe and to understand the universe in which you live, to be a part of life and to understand the life of which you are a part, to understand why you were born before you have to die... And it's so sad that people go to their grave without understanding why they were born in the first place.” This is the scientific arrogance that needs to be put down.
In conclusion, one could easily say science as defined above probably knows very little of reality. There are equally good, if not better, methods to human wisdom. People who have not seen God swear by Him; a scientist has not seen an electron but swears by it. Both are irrational in one sense but, the latter gets all the recognition.
(The writer is a former professor of cardiology, Middlesex Medical School, London, and former Vice-Chancellor of Manipal University. firstname.lastname@example.org)