COVID 19, science and responsibility of the intellectuals (Extract)
by Pramod Ranjan (Extract))
The deliberately-created confusion over facts related to COVID 19 has left most of us puzzled and bewildered. We have suspicions about the facts that are being bandied about by our governments and by organizations like the WHO. But we are hesitant to air our suspicions from public platforms. And that is because we have never tried to blend academic specialization with common sense and experience-based knowledge. We have forgotten that common sense cannot be bought and that the authenticity of personal experience is beyond question. On the other hand, expertise is basically on sale. And the so-called pure sciences are not useless but downright dangerous for humanity.
Here, it would be pertinent to recall an incident of the year 2007. It is relevant because one player in it is linked with the Imperial College, which, through its so-called models has exaggerated the lethality of COVID while the name of the other player is being consistently mentioned in newspapers for its research projects.
At that time, Professor David King of Imperial College, London, was the chief scientific advisor to the British Government. He was trying to obtain the sanction of the government for use of genetically modified (GM) food grains while many in Britain were opposing it. The opponents were saying that on the basis of their experience, they were sure that genetically modified food grains were not only harming their health but would also hurt environment and biodiversity. King’s argument was that scientific studies had proved that GM good grains were safer than the natural, non-GM food grains and that the technology for genetically modifying food grains would help feed the growing population of the world.
When British journalists raised the concerns of the people, David King flew off the handle. He launched an acerbic attack on media institutions for raising questions on science. He said, “Science is society’s sacrament to its own future. The degree to which we pay homage to scientists and science is a reflection of society’s health.”
The reaction of Richard Hortan, the editor-in-chief of Lancet, the oldest and one of the leading medical journals of the world, to King’s statement is even more relevant today. Writing in The Guardian dated 11 December 2007, Horton said “King takes his faith in science into the realms of totalitarian paranoia…He should understand that Science does not exist in an abstract world of experiments and equations. Science is part of the anarchy of democratic debate.”
Subsequently, we in India learned from our experience that GM food grains are not only harmful to the health of the consumers, to environment and to biodiversity but they also cause the ruin of the farmers. In the recent years, thousands of farmers in the country have been forced to commit suicide because of the BT cotton seeds. India and other countries have banned the production of GM food grains because of the problems they cause. The British Government also did not accept King’s advice and GM food grains are banned in that country to date.
‘Science’ is a stage in the perpetual growth of human knowledge. In other words, it is the name given to the condensed form of the knowledge available to us today – it is the practical side of knowledge. Only debates and discourses can lead to the development of science that is ethical and meant for the welfare of the people.
Science was born and developed in the same way as religion was born and developed. At one time, religion was also the condensed form of the knowledge that was available then. It was the practical side of knowledge. Problems arose when the dominant and powerful sections of society began using religion to serve its selfish interests. What had happened with religion then is happening with science now.
Some rich persons and powerful institutions want to bring the entire human race under their thumb with the help of the new scientific discoveries. Organizations associated with them appear to partners in creating a disproportionate fear of COVID.
There is no question of opposing or supporting science or religion. Who would like to call himself irreligious? Who would like himself unscientific?
But we did fight to free religion from the clutches of the priestly class, the feudal lords and the kings and some of us even took the risk of calling ourselves atheists. To get rid of religion, some declared themselves spiritual while others said they were in quest of truth.
Some people look for science in religion and superstitions. For instance, those trying to find a cure for COVID in cow urine. This is, of course, foolish and may have implications that have the potential of hurting the human race. But while looking for science in religion is bad; trying to turn science into religion is worse. After all, didn’t those who were seeking to treat COVID patients with Gau Mutra hit the streets during lockdown and used sticks to enforce ‘science’?
Just as religion was used for political purposes, today, science is being used to serve political interests.
An editor friend of mine told me that he was a bit reluctant to publish my article as he has faith in science. I want to tell him that there is nothing more unscientific than faith. We had discovered science because we hoped that it would inspire us to search for the truth using reason and logic. If we have developed faith in science, there is something wrong somewhere.
To protect humanity, we would have to launch a battle for freedom from science. Saying that one has purely scientific thinking is tantamount to saying that one is a religious fanatic. Today, when science is turning into a religion, we would have to skeptical of its claims of building a better world.We all need to reflect that when debates and discussions were being barred in the name of COVID; when crores of people were being pushed into hunger, unemployment and misery in the name of expert advice and science; at that time, what was our duty? Did we do our duty? There is still time. Do we intend to fulfil our responsibility; do we want to discharge our duty?
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