Wednesday, February 6, 2008

On why science isn't black and white

The popular perception of science and technology as a cure-all for problems in the world needs serious examination.

We put so much trust and authority on the "experts" and technocrats of the world (scientists, doctors, engineers, econimists.. the list goes on) without recognizing that as precise as it has been made, science isn't really, well, the science we believe it to be.

Take medicine, for instance. In this century we believe that genetics is the answer to all questions of human illnesses. We believe that once the Human Genome Project has been completed all questions about our predisposition to and inheritance of illnesses will be answered. Yet in the 1800s and before, when the world was in the colonial era, medicine wasn't about genetics -- it was about skin colour. Science was constructed in terms of race. Today we believe that racial categories make no biological sense, but back then, it mattered a whole lot.

Linnaeus himself, the celebrated taxonomist, was the one who established the "varieties" of human species in 1758.

"He described Homo European as light-skinned, blond, and governed by laws; Homo American was copper-colored and was regulated by customs; Homo Asiatic was sooty and dark-eyed and governed by opinions; Homo African was black and indolent and governed by impulse. We can in retrospect recognize the ethnocentric assumptions involved in these descriptions, which imply a descending order of prestige. Most striking is the labeling of the four varieties as governed by laws, customs, opinions, and impulse, with Europeans on the top and Africans at the bottom."

The point is, science isn't static, and it isn't as EXACT as we think it is. It could change. Who knows what it could be about in the next century? Maybe it won't be about genes -- hey, maybe it will be because of some alien powers controlling us, who we may discover are not actually human but are mere cyborgs.

Thus this article about the forced stopping of part of a current diabetes study -- because of a higher rate of death for people being treated aggressively for diabetes -- shows that science really ISN'T as exact as we think it is. The researchers themselves admitted that findings were puzzling and disappointing. While we put our faith in the "experts" since they know best, we should at least acknowledge that their knowledge has limits. Science isn't black and white..fact and lie..actual and unreal. The very foundations of science -- logic and reason and faith in the physical world -- are presumptions. Can all things really be left to science and reason? I argue this depends on society's larger world-view. It's about time we start to question why we put so much faith in science and the world's "experts."


Joanne said...

Wow!! This is a fascinating article...especially about the types of various humans...haha I'm definetly fit into the first one...light skinned and blond!

As a student of science I agree that science is not exact. It can definetly change...even the laws of physics could change.

Glennie Cruz said...

Thank you! Much appreciated..It's really nice to hear from someone with a science background too.

It's nice to be putting these questions out there so that we can think twice before putting our faith fully in what 'experts' say =)