Writing and art by Alex Stone

Blame it on…

I've heard it said, and even seen it written a good few times lately, that all the problems of the world can be blamed on ‘Western science.’ Well, respectfully, I beg to differ. This is big-time bunkum. It is fine malarkey. In short, methinks, ‘tis tosh.

For a start, science is not an ethnicity. Or a nationality. It’s an internationally-developed, and internationally-accepted methodology for the purpose of advancing human knowledge. And it does so through drawing conclusions through the observation of facts. And these conclusions sometimes will not hold forever, for the methodology of science accepts new evidence, and new conclusions all the time.

A recent example of this is the LED lightbulbs that have been developed to use way less electricity than their predecessors to provide bright light. These were developed through scientific practise and experimentation.

But…and there’s always a but, isn’t there? More recent scientific query has found that the blue light emitted by the vast majority of LEDs and screens, can be harmful to human beings, in that, if absorbed at night (late TV, or street lights shining through windows, say), it suppresses melatonin production in our systems, which has dangerous implications for our health. So science moves on; and proposes solutions to fix what was supposed to be the fix in the first place. And whether the scientists who came up with that advance, its query, and its possible solution, were Indonesian or Taiwanese or Sri Lankan or Siberian, means naught. That they were curious scientists working, supposedly, for the good of humankind, is good enough for me.

Anyway and also, what exactly is ‘Western science’? Is it that kind of science that comes only from European countries, or does it include the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well?

And if ‘Western science’ is so bad, does this imply that ‘Eastern science’, or ‘Southern Science’ or 'Northern science’ may be better? I trust you’re starting to see the unfettered absurdity at play here. For if there is one thing that unites humanity, it’s an endless curiosity about our world.

Words matter. How we use them matters. Ironically this is emphasized in sciences of all stripes, with most research documents and theses starting with a section pegging the definitions of terms to be used, so we can all know and agree – and not be confused about – just what we’re discussing.

Yes, science may have what appears to be some people to be strange conventions – like the null hypothesis, for instance. And yes, it can become complicated. And maybe use big words and arcane theorems. But no, it hasn’t single-handedly led to world-wide cock-up on all fronts.

As far as the ‘words matter’ thing, yes, you can posit that the results of the West European (Western) style of capitalism has, historically, much to answer for. And that the accessories to this exploitation by capitalistic powers, could often be linked to products of scientific advance from the same world. (Except, of course, for gunpowder.)

Yes, that capitalism that flourished on the ill-gotten gains of the Atlantic slave trade, that depended on non-sustainable resource extraction from colonised countries, that has created profit-centres out of human dis-ease (like privatised hospitals), or human distress (like privatised prisons) – yes that can be seen to have created environmental and societal problems. But science? Western science? Is it alone to blame? No, I don’t think so.