A Third-World View of European Science

I am indebted to the United Nations University for giving me a window into the view of Western science as seen from India by those scientists who are genuinely trying to develop an Indian scientific tradition to counterpose to the imperial exploitative machine. A collection edited by Ashis Nandy(29) gives a devastating analysis of how the Indian scientific effort has been totally subverted by the nuclear weapons programme, of which all criticism is regarded as practically treasonable.

There is a critical analysis of the founding father, Bacon, by J K Bajaj: '..that a corrupt judge and an unscrupulous politician should be the prophet of a new science and a new society perhaps reflects the nature of that science and society..'.

Bajaj goes on to analyse in some depth the procedures suggested in the Novum Organum, and finds them wanting in many respects, primarily in the orienting of all knowledge in the direction of the search for power over both man and nature, while insisting that this knowledge has some unique validity. Such a philosophy is inherently violent. Bajaj quotes Ghandi: '..this civilisation is such that one only has to be patient, and it will be self-destroyed'.

There are trenchant criticisms of how reductionist science has destroyed Indian environment and culture via pesticides and major engineering works, and there is an analysis by Shiv Visvanathan of the role of British rule in India as a realisation of a human laboratory, in the Baconian tradition. One is reminded of Sir William Petty's Baconian plan for Ireland.

Typical of the laboratory role for India, in the grand Baconian plan, is the work of Haffkine, who is officially revered as a pioneer of public health in India; there is a plague research institute in Bombay called after him; he has been commemorated on stamps.

Haffkine came to India to test the results from the Pasteur Institute in Paris regarding the potential of the anti-cholera vaccine. This vaccine had been developed under the stimulus of the need for the European military machines to immunise their troops against the diseases which followed on insanitary conditions in wartime. The cholera epidemic in Bombay lasted for years, and Haffkine actively opposed measures (like sanitation and hygeine) which would have controlled the plague at source, preferring to allow it to run its course, enabling him to have an ongoing human laboratory to perfect his vaccination procedures.

At the same time in Egypt, a similar plague was brought under control within 6 months, by the introduction of limewashing and garbage disposal, under Sir John Rogers, who was Director General of the Sanitary Department.

Vishvanathan had not picked up the motivation of the Haffkine programme; had he known it, it would have strengthened his argument. I picked this up from another source, Coakley(30), who edited a TCD quatercentenary publication which gives the lives and times of some 40 medical scientists. There is here a reference to Haffkine in relation to Almroth Wright (1861-1947), in which it emerges that Haffkine's concern with cholera was motivated by the needs of the military to immunise armies against wartime disease hazards.

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