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7. Reductionist science as epistemological violence



The nexus between modern science and violence is obvious from the fact that eighty per cent of all scientific research is devoted to the war industry and is frankly aimed at large-scale violence. In our times, this violence is directed not only against enemy fighting forces but also against civilian populations. I argue that modern science is violent even in peaceful domains such as, for example, health care and agriculture, where the professed objective of scientific research is not violence but human welfare.

The argument is based on the premise that modern science is quintessentially reductionist. Its reductionist nature under-girds an economic structure based on exploitation, profit maximization and capital accumulation. Reductionist science is also at the root of the growing ecological crisis, because it entails a transformation of nature such that the processes, regularities and regenerative capacity of nature are destroyed.

The linkage between modern science and a profit-based economic system can be discerned in major and varied scourges such as desertification, diarrhoea, and deforestation. Since the alternative modes of knowledge which can provide solutions to these problems are oriented to social benefit rather than to personal or corporate profits, reductionist science scoffs at them as hocus-pocus. The fact, however, is that reductionist science itself often resorts to misinformation and falsehood in order to establish its monopoly on knowledge.

This monopoly results in fourfold violence - violence against the subject of knowledge, the object of knowledge, the beneficiary of knowledge, and against knowledge itself.

Here violence is inflicted on the subject socially through the sharp divide between the expert and the non-expert - a divide which converts the vast majority of non-experts into non-knowers even in those areas of life in which the responsibility of practice and action rests with them.

But even the expert is not spared: fragmentation of knowledge converts the expert into a non-knower in fields of knowledge other than his or her specialization.

The object of knowledge is violated when modern science, in a mindless effort to transform nature without a thought for the consequences, destroys the innate integrity of nature and thereby robs it of its regenerative capacity. The multidimensional ecological crisis all over the world is an eloquent testimony to the violence that reductionist science perpetrates on nature.

Contrary to the claim of modern science that people are ultimately the beneficiaries of scientific knowledge, people - particularly the poor - are its worst victims: they are deprived of their life-support systems in the reckless pillage of nature. Violence against nature recoils on man, the supposed beneficiary of all science.

In order to prove itself superior to alternative modes of knowledge and be the only legitimate mode of knowing, reductionist science resorts to suppression and falsification of facts and thus commits violence against science itself, which ought to be a search for truth. We discuss below how fraudulent this claim to truth is.

The Politics of Scientific Knowledge

The conventional model of science, technology and society locates sources of violence in politics and ethics, that is, in the application of science and technology, not in scientific knowledge itself.

The fact-value dichotomy is a creation of modern, reductionist science which, while being an epistemic response to a particular set of values, claims to be independent of values. According to the received view, modern science is the discovery of the properties of nature in accordance with a 'scientific method' which generates 'objective', 'neutral', 'universal' knowledge. This view of modern science as a description of reality as it is, unprejudiced by value, can be rejected on at least four grounds.

All knowledge, including modern scientific knowledge, is built through the use of a plurality of methodologies. As Feyerabend observes:

There is no 'scientific method'; there is no single procedure, or set of rules that underlines every piece of research and guarantees that it is 'scientific' and, therefore, trustworthy. The idea of a universal and stable method that is an unchanging measure of adequacy and even the idea of a universal and stable rationality is as unrealistic as the idea of a universal and stable measuring instrument that measures any magnitude, no matter what the circumstances. Scientists revise their standards, their procedures, their criteria of rationality as they move along and perhaps entirely replace their theories and their instruments as they move along and enter new domains of research.1

The view that science is just a discovery of facts about nature does not get support from philosophy either. If scientific knowledge is assumed to give true, factual knowledge of 'reality as it is', then we would have to 'conclude that Newtonian theory was true until around 1900, after which it suddenly became false, while relativity and quantum theories became the truth'.2

The view of scientific knowledge as a purely factual description of nature is also ecologically unfounded Ecology perceives relationships between different elements of an ecosystem What properties of a particular element or resource are picked up for study or for understanding nature depends on the relationships that are taken as the context defining the properties. In other words, the context is determined by the priorities and values guiding the perception of nature Selection of the context is a value-determined process and the selection, in turn, determines what properties are seen in nature There is nothing like a neutral fact about nature, independent of the values shaped by human cognitive and economic activity Properties perceived in nature depend on how you look at them, and how you look depends on the economic interest you have in the resources of nature, Looking does not create properties, but it definitely creates conditions for their perception, Economic values of a particular type generate perceptions and uses of nature that reinforce these values, The value of profit maximization, for example, determines a particular way of looking at nature.

It is the central claim of this chapter that capitalist logic is inseparably and dialectically linked with the reductionist character of contemporary science which, in turn, has a set of distinctive characteristics which demarcates it from all other non-reductionist knowledge systems, Reductionism provides the assumptions and criteria which guide modern science, The basic assumptions are ontological and epistemological,

The ontological assumptions of reductionism are: (a) that a system is reducible to its parts; and (b) that all systems are made up of the same basic constituents which are discrete and atomistic; and (c) that all systems have the same basic processes which are mechanical,

The epistemological assumptions of reductionism are: (a) that knowledge of the parts of a system gives knowledge of the whole system; (6) that 'experts' and 'specialists' are the only legitimate knowledge-seekers and knowledge-justifiers.

The Politics of Reductionism

The ontological and epistemological components of the reductionist worldview provide the framework for a particular way of doing science, which is projected as the 'scientific method', that is, as the only reliable and objective way of discovering the facts of nature and correctly understanding nature, Deriving its inspiration and authority from Descartes, modern science gives the Cartesian method a twist to christen it the sole 'scientific method', According to Descartes,

Method consists entirely in the order of disposition of the objects towards which our mental vision must be directed if we would find out any truth. We shall comply with it exactly if we reduce involved and obverse propositions step by step to those that are simpler, and then starting with the intuitive apprehension of all those that are absolutely simple, attempt to ascend to the knowledge of all other precisely similar steps.3

This reductionist method has its uses in the fields of abstraction such as logic and mathematics, and in the fields of manmade artefacts such as mechanics But it fails singularly to lead to a perception of reality (truth) in the case of living organisms such as nature, including man, in which the whole is not merely the sum of the parts, if only because the parts are so cohesively interrelated that isolating any part distorts perception of the whole

In any event, there is no warrant for the claim that the reductionist method is a 'scientific method', much less the sole scientific method. Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Michael Polanyi and others have convincingly argued that modern science does not proceed according to a well-defined and stable scientific method All that can be granted to reductionist science is that it is an approach, a way of looking, a mode of thought Considering its predatory treatment of nature, attested to by the ecological crisis, it is indeed a very unreliable way.

Controlled experiment in the laboratory is a central element of the methodology of reductionist science The object of study is arbitrarily isolated from its natural surroundings, from its relationship with other objects and observer(s) The context (the value framework) so provided determines what properties are perceived in nature, and leads to a particular set of beliefs about nature.

There is threefold exclusion in this methodology: (i) ontological, in that other properties are not taken note of; (ii) epistemological, in that other ways of perceiving and knowing are not recognized; and (iii) sociological, in that the non-expert is deprived of the right both of access to knowledge and of judging the claims of knowledge

All this is the stuff of politics, not science Picking one group of people (the specialists), who adopt one way of knowing the physical world (the reductionist), to find one set of properties in nature (the reductionist/mechanistic), is a political, not a scientific, act It is this act that is claimed to be the 'scientific method'. The knowledge obtained is presented as 'the laws of nature' - wholly 'objective' and altogether universal Feyerabend is therefore right in saying:

The appearance of objectivity that is attached to some value judgements comes from the fact that a particular tradition is used but not recognized. Absence of the impression of subjectivity is not proof of objectivity, but an oversight.4

It is argued in defence of modern science that it is not science but the political misuse of science and the unethical technological application of science that lead to violence The speciousness of the argument was always clear, but is totally untenable in today's world, when science and technology have become cognitively inseparable and the amalgam has been incorporated into the economic system Fragmentation of science into a variety of specializations and sub-specializations is used as a smokescreen to blur the perception of this linkage between science and a particular model of social organization - that is, a particular ideology Science claims that since scientific truths are verifiable, they are justified beliefs and therefore universal, regardless of the social context.

The verificationist model of science was forcefully presented by positivism It claimed that verification was direct observation of the 'facts' of nature, free from the proclivities of the observer This was, however, challenged by post-positivist philosophers Kuhn, for example, showed that facts and data in science are determined by the theoretical commitment of scientists In other words, scientific facts are determined by the social world of scientists, not by the natural world.

While the Kuhnian model challenged the neutrality of scientific facts, it failed to provide an adequate epistemological framework for handling the violence of reductionist science By insisting that 'nature fits into the realistic boxes of paradigms', Kuhn rendered his model of science materially and politically vacuous Moreover, he failed to take into account the value system of the larger society that determines the choice of scientific research. Value-determination in the Kuhnian model is done by scientific paradigms, not by social, political, economic interests. By restricting itself to the social world of scientists, the Kuhnian model is unable to deal with the more significant value-determination of scientific facts by the demands made on the science system by economic interests. Moreover, by restricting himself to the material world of the lab, Kuhn was unable to deal with those ecological situations in which reductionist claims are falsified by nature, as symbolized by ecological crises.

A more appropriate account of modern science (including technology) should extend the Kuhnian model both materially and socially. Materially, the testing of scientific beliefs has to be taken out of cloistered labs into the wider physical world. Socially, the world of scientific experiments and beliefs has to be extended beyond the social organization of science to the social organization of society. The verification and validation of a scientific system would then be validation in practice, where practice is real-life activity in society and nature.

Profits, Reductionism and Violence

The artificial cognitive dichotomy between science and technology dissolves when science is viewed as a set of beliefs guiding practice, and technology as practice guided by scientific belief. The duality between belief and action, thought and practice, is responsible for encouraging many to mistake the cognitive weaknesses of reductionism for cognitive success

Reductionism, however, is not an epistemological accident. It is related to the needs of a particular form of economic organization. The reductionist worldview, the industrial revolution and the capitalist economy were the philosophical, technological and economic components of the same process. Individual firms and fragmented sectors of the economy, whether privately or publicly owned, have their own efficiency needs in mind; and every firm and sector measures its efficiency by the extent to which it maximizes its gains, regardless of the fact that in the process it also maximizes the social and ecological costs of the production process The logic of this internal efficiency is provided by reductionism: only those properties of a resource system are taken into account which generate profits through exploitation and extraction; properties which stabilize ecological processes but are commercially non-exploitative are ignored and eventually destroyed.

The rationality and efficacy of the reductionist and non-reductionist knowledge systems are never evaluated cognitively The rationality of reductionist science is declared a priori superior, even though it can be argued that if reductionist science has displaced non-reductionist modes of knowledge, it has done so not through cognitive competition, but through political support from the state and the state's development policies and development programmes which provide both financial subsidies and ideological support for the appropriation of nature for profits Since the twin myths of progress (material prosperity) and superior rationality have lost their sheen in the working out of development patterns and paradigms, and have been visibly exploded by the widespread ecological crisis, the state has stepped in to transform myths into an ideology When an individual firm or sector directly confronts the larger society in its commercial appropriation of nature, people can assess the costs and benefits for themselves; they can differentiate between progress and regression, rationality and irrationality But with the mediation of the state, the citizen-as-subject becomes the object of change rather than its determinant and consequently loses the right to assess progress. If they have to bear the costs instead of reaping any benefit of 'development', it is justified as a minor sacrifice for the 'national interest'.

The link between the state and the creation of surplus value provides the power with which reductionism establishes its supremacy Institutions of learning in agriculture, medicine and forestry, for instance, selectively train people in reductionist paradigms, which are given the names respectively of 'scientific agriculture', 'scientific medicine' and 'scientific forestry', to prove the superiority of reductionist science Stripped of the power the state invests it with, such a science can be seen to be cognitively weak and ineffective in responding to problems posed by nature As a system of knowledge about nature, reductionist science is weak and inadequate; as a system of knowledge for the market, it is powerful and profitable

Reductionist Ecology

Reductionism has lately invaded the specialized branch of biology dealing with organisms' relations to one another and to their surroundings, known as ecology It appears in the garb of the saviour of the ecosystem, now in peril too grave to be denied or ignored. Nothing could be more ironical than the claim of the destroyer to be the saviour But if the claim is ironical, the remedy that reductionist ecology proposes is grotesquely chilling, as we shall presently see But let us first see how a pioneer of this ecology goes about it. Argues Garrett Hardin in his 'Tragedy of Commons':

Picture a pasture common to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy...

Adding together the component partial utilities the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another... But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit - in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination towards which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.5

Hardin chooses not to disclose the assumptions underlying this perverse logic (Hardin's, which he foists on the poor unprotesting herdsman). These assumptions are: (a) that each herdsman sees himself as an atomized individual who is pitted against the rest of the community in deadly competition for grabbing as much of the common goods as he can; (b) that in all societies production is not for satisfaction of needs, but for exchange in a monetized market with a view to making immediate profit; and (c) that every herdsman is so short-sighted ('rational' in Hardin's vocabulary) as to sacrifice his future survival on the altar of immediate gain.

Such a poor opinion of herdsman's intelligence comes naturally to the ruling Úlites (especially of the 'modernizing' third world) and to establishment scientists who, comfortably cocooned in their claustral specializations, remain innocent of history or sociology or social psychology. However, history tells us that competition has not always been the driving force in societies. And sociology tells us that it need not necessarily be so today and tomorrow. Even today, despite the frenetic drive for 'modernization', considerable parts of the rural societies of third-world countries are still outside the competitive market, for exchange is still the predominant motive for production in subsistence economies.

The general logic of the 'tragedy of the Commons' does not operate in such situations. It is true, though, that in certain circumstances - those, for instance, in which the commons cannot provide for the basic needs of the population - a tragedy may occur even without competition. But that tragedy can be handled. There is another situation in which tragedy is inevitable and becomes unmanageable. It is created when the largest commons, nature, is mindlessly pillaged and life-support systems irreversibly ruined by those who are confident that they will not suffer the consequences of their action. Such a situation (which is no longer hypothetical but has become a harsh fact of life) is created by big business, multinational or national, which has perfect mobility of capital (from one sector to another and from one country to another). It is therefore unencumbered with the responsibility for preserving natural resources. It has no difficulty in folding up one business and moving into another even more profitable one.

That is the real tragedy of the commons. In the words of Daniel Fife:

The tragedy of the commons may appear to be occurring but in fact something quite different is really happening. The commons is being killed but someone is getting rich. The goose that lays golden eggs is being killed for profit.6

The survival of common property, such as pastures and village copses, and common goods, such as a stable ecology, are possible only in a society in which checks and controls on the utilization of resources are built into the organizing principle of the society. The breakdown of such a community, with the consequent collapse of the principles of common ownership and shared responsibility, spells progressive degradation and the eventual ruin of common resources. This is happening in most third world countries.

The remedy preferred by reductionist ecologists for such a state of affairs is a reflection of the ethics with which their kind of science works. For no matter what label is given it - Hardin calls it 'ecology' and the third-world Úlites call it 'development' - the reductionist prescription is a prescription for genocide combined with ecocide. Some are frank about it, as Garrett Hardin is. He pulls no punches in advocating the liquidation of the poor (especially in the third world) through 'game management' and/or 'war of attrition', and justifies both as 'lifeboat ethics'. Some, such as the third-world Úlites, though coy about it, plan to achieve the same result by depriving the poor of their life-support system, thereby condemning them to slow death in the name of 'development'. It becomes in effect a war of attrition.

So much for genocide. As for ecocide, we shall choose a few out of several examples.

Eucalyptus Planting

Desertification and its consequence, famine, has already caused the death of over 900,000 people in Ethiopia. In the Sahel, 40 to 90 per cent of the livestock has died.

Nearer home, starvation deaths owing to scarcity are a recurrent phenomenon in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa. Although officialdom has no eyes for it, and the 'free but cooperative press' of India - J. K. Galbraith's description - has no space for it, such deaths occasionally make a splash when a political bigwig is accidentally confronted by it, as happened during the Prime Minister's tour of drought-hit Orissa when a hapless woman named Parasi Punji made bold to tell the Prime Minister how drought had forced her to sell her sister-in-law for Rs 40 to feed her three starving children.

Since ancient times societies have known that forests are the best insurance against desertification and famine. The reductionist version of this response to desertification is itself a prescription for desertification. Under the World Food Programme, FAO is planting eucalyptus in Ethiopia. Under the social forestry schemes for ecological repair, the World Bank, SIDA, USAID have coaxed India into putting farmlands under eucalyptus. People who for centuries have been planters and protectors of trees have suddenly been marginalized. Knowledge of tree planting has become the sole preserve of international and national bureaucracies. Throughout the world, irrespective of local ecological conditions and economic needs, the prescription is only one - eucalyptus. The biological wealth and diversity of the tropics have been destroyed to make room for the reductionist solution, even though eucalyptus causes rather than cures deserts, upsets the cycle of life, the hydrological cycle and the nutrient cycle.

The ecological audit of eucalyptus plantations reveals that it involves heavy economic costs through the destruction of the hydrological stability and soil productivity in the following ways:7

First, in regions which have water scarcity, the high water intake of eucalyptus destroys the natural processes that replenish soil moisture and recharge the sources of underground water, turning the region into a completely arid zone. Moreover, eucalyptus damages the innate allelomorphic capacity of all other plants, seriously depleting the gene pool. The process initiated by large-scale cultivation of eucalyptus in water-scarce regions therefore leads inexorably to desertification.

Second, on fertile agricultural lands, eucalyptus, when planted and harvested in short rotation, heavily diminishes soil nutrients, destroying the soil's capacity for biological productivity. Moreover, eucalyptus destroys the environment for soil fauna that are at once 'factories' for reproducing soil fertility, and efficient 'machines' for maintaining the soil structure.

In the countries of the South, desertification has become an increasingly severe threat to human survival. The recently published UNEP report on deserts estimates that about 3.5 million hectares of productive and fertile rain-fed land is being lost annually. The food crisis in Africa testifies to the cost of desertification in human and economic terms. It is also a reminder that many of the economic problems of the poorest of mankind are rooted in the ecological destruction caused by excessive demands on the natural resources by the Úlites of the world.

Eucalyptus emerged as a magical candidate for all kinds of afforestation programmes during the 1960s because it is a fast-growing species. This belief was, however, challenged and it was shown that many indigenous species have higher growth rates than eucalyptus. It was then admitted that

The whole question of fast growth has come to light only because of the pulp industry gaining importance. How to get adequate pulp quickly was our problem. It is with this reference that we had to try various species not only indigenous, but also exotic. While trying the exotics, we found the eucalyptus quite useful.8

In spite of eucalyptus being fast-growing and productive only in the narrow context of wood-fibre production, it was prescribed as a universal means for achieving increased productivity of biomass for the satisfaction of diverse needs. And so, a reductionist view of forestry wedded to the pulp industry was universalized at the cost of conservation of soil and water.

The rapid decline, and even total destruction, of water resources as a consequence of large-scale planting of eucalyptus has been reported from all parts of India. Sunderlal Bahuguna recorded the following statement of an elderly forest ranger in the Nainital tarai of Uttar Pradesh: 'We felled mixed natural forest of this area and planted eucalyptus.... Our handpumps have gone dry as the water-table has gone down. We have committed a sin.' Mahashweta Devi described the impact of eucalyptus on the water resources in the tribal areas of Bihar and West Bengal in the following words:

I am concerned with the India I know. My India is of the poor, starving and helpless people. Most of them are landless and the few who have land are happy to be able to make most of the given resources. To cover Purulia, Bankura, Midnapur, Singbhum, Palamau, with eucalyptus will be to rob my India of drinking and irrigation water.9

On 10 August 1983, the farmers of Barka and Holahalli villages in Tumkur district, in Karnataka, marched en masse to the forest nursery and pulled out millions of eucalyptus seedlings, inserting tamarind and mango seeds in their place. According to them, eucalyptus plantation in the catchment area of the streams feeding their agricultural land had made them go dry. Describing the state of the main stream feeding the village Guttalagolahalli, a local farmer complained, 'Earlier we would take our cattle to this stream in the summer. But now, as the stream is dry, we have to fetch water from a well.'10

Yet, forestry experts refuse to accept this, presumably because it hurts their own dominance and that of the interests they serve. The president of the Forest Research Institute of India, K. M. Tiwari, and R. S. Mathur, in a paper published in a special issue of the Indian Express, writes:

Of late in India a lot of controversy has arisen over the water consumption behaviour of eucalyptus planted in afforestation programme in social forestry. It has been alleged that eucalyptus plantation consumes large quantities of water to the extent that they deplete local water resources such as streams, wells, etc. This notion does not appear to be correct, as no experimental data in support has so far been presented.... There is no scientific basis in the popular fallacy that eucalyptus lowers the ground-water table.11

Scientific fact and empirical reality have thus been conveniently reduced to a fallacy. With the help of a controlled experiment, the foresters have manufactured a new justification for the propagation of eucalyptus. Having found that all recognized and established scientific information was delegitimizing eucalyptus as a fast-growing tree, the forest establishment in India has rejected these data and initiated their 'controlled' experiments after the emphasis on eucalyptus in Indian social forestry was challenged in 1981. The Forest Department of Uttar Pradesh produced some data in 1983 on the biomass production of a few tree species, including eucalyptus hybrid (Table 7.1).12

The data of this single-plant experiment on one-year-old juveniles became the proverbial straw the official foresters clutched at to legitimize the bias of their kind in favour of eucalyptus. This gave the green signal to all eucalyptus plantations, in all agro-climatic conditions, in all parts of the country. In the history of forestry science in the world there is no parallel to this unrealistic extrapolation of a juvenile single-plant data to large-scale afforestation programmes unmindful of the well-established fact of non-uniform growth rates of eucalyptus at different ages.

One can easily see the inapplicability of the Kanpur data to mature trees. Eucalyptus, the low leaf litter of which is well known from measurements made in plantation studies, comes out as the best leaf producer in the Kanpur 'controlled' experiment. Pongamia pinnata, which is famous for its high crown biomass output, is reduced, in the Kanpur experiment, to a tuber crop with extremely low crown biomass output, less even than its root. The much advertised Kanpur data does not reflect the field reality and does not satisfy minimum scientific criteria. Reflecting on this point, D. R. Bhumla, a renowned agricultural scientist, at a Planning Commission meeting on eucalyptus, cautioned:

There are no data to show that eucalyptus produced more biomass than other species like Acacia nilotica, Dalbergia sissoo and Prosopis juliflora. Hence there was no strong case for advocating eucalyptus in social and farm forestry. However, it might be useful for pulp production On unirrigated lands, raising eucalyptus plantation would result in disaster. The poor and marginal farmers should be provided with enough data on eucalyptus before persuading them to take to eucalyptus.13

Reductionist forestry science is intimately linked to forest-based industry, notwithstanding its claim to be 'objective'. When its violence to nature through desertification, and its violence to man through famine, is exposed, official foresters turn on the victims of desertification and accuse them of colossal ignorance of the science of forestry. But this science does not balk at manufacturing data to legitimize misinformation; it violates the tradition of science itself to deny people the right to know and to hide, under the protective umbrella of the state, the nexus between modern science and capital accumulation.

Table 7.1 Results reported by the U.P. Forest Department Laboratory, Kanpur

Species Water consumed in 1 yr (litres) Biomass production (gm) Total biomass produced/litre of water (gm)
Shoots Roots Leaves Total
Acacia auriculacformis 1231.50 1023 5 361.6 327.9 1713.0 1.39
Albizzia lebbeck 1283.90 1132.4 085.6 136.8 2354.8 1.83
Dalbergia sissoo 1534.05 1129.3 775.5 99.7 2004.5 1.31
Pongamia pinnata 459.15 168.0 274.7 77 5 519.7 1.13
Syzigium cumihi 1190.25 1278.0 593.7 514.3 2386.0 2.00
Eucalyptus hubrid 2526.35 2519.8 2094.3 549.9 5209.0 2.06


Traditional, or what the reductionist worldview calls unscientific, systems of food production have managed pest control by a series of measures which include building up plant resistance, practicing rotational and mixed cropping, and providing habitats for pest-predators in farm trees and hedgerows. These practices created stable local conditions; a balance was achieved between plants and their pests through natural competition, selection and predator-prey relationships. Myths are generally found to be important sources of traditional knowledge about quiet but essential ecological processes. For example, the Kayape Indians of the Amazon basin have a ritual in which the women paint their faces with ant parts in the maize festival. The principal theme of the myth is the celebration of the little red ant as the guardian of the fields and a friend of women. This would seem a useless ritual from the reductionist point of view, but Posey points out:

The myth begins to make sense when we understand the co-evolutionary complex of maize, beans, manioc and this ant. Manioc produces an extra floral nectar that attracts the ants to the young manioc plant. The ants use their mandibles to make their way to the nectar cutting away any bean vines that would prevent the new, fragile manioc stems from growing. The twining bean vines are, therefore, kept from climbing on the manioc and are left with the maize plants as their natural trellis. The maize can shoot up undamaged by the bean vines, while the bean plant itself furnishes valuable nitrogen needed by the maize. The ants are the natural manipulator of nature and facilitate the horticultural activities of women.14

'Scientific' farming upset this balance and created favourable conditions for the multiplication of disease. Organic fertilizer, which builds up plant resistance to disease, was replaced by chemical fertilizers, which decrease plant resistance to pests. Since many pests are specific to particular plants, replacing crop rotations by the planting of the same crop year after year often encourages pest build-ups. Substitution of a mixed cropping pattern by monoculture also makes crops more prone to pest attacks. The mechanization of farming leads to the destruction of hedgerows and trees, and thus destroys the habitat for some pest-predators.

The problem of pest control was therefore mostly a problem created by the disturbance of the ecological balance of agro-ecosystems by the introduction of 'scientific agriculture'. Reductionist science was concerned merely with the existence of pests, not with the ecology of pests. The solution that suited both science and the pesticide industry was production and sale of poisons to kill pests. As a pesticide company announced in a TV advertisement, 'The only good bug is a dead bug.'

This approach failed, or refused, to recognize that pests have natural enemies that have the unique property of regulating pest populations. According to De Bach:

The philosophy of pest control by chemicals has been to achieve the highest kill possible, and percent mortality has been the main yardstick in the early screening of new chemicals in the lab. Such an objective, the highest kill possible, combined with ignorance of, or disregard for, target insects and mites is guaranteed to be the quickest road to upsets, resurgences and the development of re sistance to pesticides.15

De Bach's research on DDT-induced pest increases showed that these could be anywhere from 36-fold to over 1200-fold.

Interference with natural balance also fails to anticipate and predict what will happen when that balance is upset. Besides reflecting the cognitive weakness of the approach of over-kill, the violence of the pestcide-based approach decreases plant resistance, increases pest attacks and the need for even more pesticides. Gradually, pesticides are absorbed by plants and animals in ever-increasing quantities. Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring remains the best commentary on how pesticides are becoming a major source of water pollution and health hazards.

The claims made by reductionist science and the pesticides industry about the damage to crops prevented by pesticides have a persuasive ring because the effect of pesticides is visible.

A heap of bugs killed in a lightning operation can be dramatized and turned into an impressive sight and good selling point. Natural enemies of pests, on the other hand, although more effective because they do not produce any destructive fall-out for flora, fauna and humans, work quietly and invisibly and cannot therefore be shown on the TV screen dancing round a heap of bugs. Chemical pesticides are successful but indiscriminate killers; they kill not only pests, but the natural enemies of pests also.

This mystification of violence as control runs right through the entire scientific process, from the 'controlled' experiments, which are not real-life experiments, for they do not compare the biological to the chemical control of pests. It is therefore possible to make fantastic claims, such as those of D. G. Hessayan of the British Agrochemicals Association, who said, 'The effect of not spraying tropical crops would of course be disastrous, and the resulting famine would be the greatest disaster the world has ever known.'16

Testing of pesticides is carried out primarily on the basis of acute toxicity, that is, effects from short-term, comparatively high doses.... It is fine to test for acute toxicity, but what if there are undetected effects on humans, effects that may not show up for many years or generations? Our limited testing is unlikely to find out. Cancer may take 20 to 30 years to appear. And animal experience is especially unreliable in tests for cancer, mutations, and allergies which are less transferable between species than acute toxicity.... The testing procedure also neglects a number of other factors: possible interaction between residues and other food additives; hazard of metabolic products; increased susceptibility of the young and the weak (because tests are run on healthy animals); and the possible adverse nutritional effects of induced metabolic changes in food. All these considerations indicate some degree of increased risk to consumers and society from continued use of chemical pesticides.17

That ignorance, irrationality and greed are characteristics of the pesticide industry have been tragically revealed in the Bhopal disaster. Union Carbide was simultaneously a creator of scientific knowledge, profits and violence.

But in spite of its complete failure to solve the problem of pest control, and in spite of its violence against nature and humans, the sale of pesticides continues to increase, because its use is insured through state agricultural policy, through pesticide subsidies and through pesticide propaganda, and also because pesticides destroy the ecological basis of the alternative systems of pest management that show better and longer-lasting results.


Here was the medicine, the patient died and no one asked: who thrived? So have we with hellish electuaries.... I have myself given the poison to thousands. They withered, I must live to see the impudent murderers praised. - Goethe, Faust

Medicine is generally presented as an area in which modern science has the most achievements and successes to its credit. But there is increasing evidence that modern medicine and therapeutics have themselves become a source of disease and death. According to Ivan Illich, diseases brought on by doctors are a greater cause of increased mortality than traffic accidents and war-related activities. Iatrogenic illnesses cause between 60,000 to 140,000 deaths in America alone each year, and leave 2 to 5 million others more or less seriously ill. The situation is worst in establishments which generate medical knowledge, viz. university hospitals where one in five patients contracts an iatrogenic disease which usually requires special treatment, and leads to death in one case out of thirty.18

'Scientific medicine' extends its monopoly even to those cases of common diseases in which people would get well without therapeutic intervention. It only converts simple problems into serious or fatal ones. Thus, diarrhoea has always been a common illness managed traditionally by diet control and rehydration. Rice water, kanji, isabgol, curd, coconut water are just a few among the numerous traditionally-established means for controlling diarrhoea in tropical countries like India.

When 'scientific medicine' steps in, it reduces the problem of diarrhoea to the existence of a discrete entity in the guts that can be cured only by drugs. This shifts the focus from the patient to the disease and applies solutions which result in violence on the patient, both through drugs and the side effects of drugs. 'It [is] not necessary to cure the patient, but the disease itself must be the focus of medical attention with the patient as a kind of inert carrier of his condition. The doctor [is] not interested in equilibrium. He [is] at war.'19

Clioquinol was introduced as an anti-diarrhoeal drug in 1934 by Ciba-Geigy under the brand names of Mexaform and Enterovioform. Although its effectiveness was established only for amoebiasis in lab and clinical trials, its therapeutic action was extrapolated to all kinds of diarrhoea. Clioquinol was indicated for summer, traveller's or unspecified diarrhoea, gastro-enteritis, colitis, and digestive disorders associated with diarrhoea. It was even suggested for prophylactic use. It therefore became a commonly dispensed drug for common ailments.

Ciba and the scientists working in its support universalized the efficacy of the drug on the basis of scanty information in order to capture larger markets. But this medical 'science' showed an amazing reluctance to use information already available about the toxic effects of the drug. As early as 1935 two cases with severe neurological symptoms and signs were reported in Argentina, and one of the authors of the report informed the drug company about the suspected adverse effects. Between 1935 and 1970 the potential risk of irreversible neurological damage was documented in the medical literature as well as in the internal files of CIBA. According to late Dr Olle Hanson, 'Attempts to hide facts, deny facts and attempts to convince doctors not to publish their negative experimental findings have been made throughout by Ciba-Geigy, the producers of Mexaform and Enterovioform.'20

The cost of hiding these facts in order to continue sales was the crippling of an estimated 10,000-30,000 people in Japan also, where the prescription of clioquinol led to a SMON epidemic, a severe neurological disorder caused by the drug. SMON stands for 'Subacute Mylo Optic Neuropathy'; in plain English it means loss of sight, loss of function of legs, loss of bladder control, and constant pain in the legs.

Introducing two SMON patients to a press conference in Geneva in 1980, Dr Beppu, a neurologist, said:

I would like to introduce these patients in order to present to you the realities of SMON and give a brief description of the disease.

Let me first introduce Mrs Michike Kinoshita. She had been happy and well as a housewife with three children until she fell ill ill 1960. After having an operation to remove a bowel obstruction in 1960, Mrs Kinoshita visited her local doctor to complain of occasional diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Later, as part of her treatment, she was given 6 Enterovioform tablets per day from January to November 1966. She therefore consumed a total of 329 gms of clioquinol. She began complaining of numbness in both legs and feeling something unusual attached to the soles of her feet, in the middle of May of the same year. These symptoms were gradually followed by muscular weakness of the lower limbs and difficulty in walking. The numbness slowly extended from the distal end of the legs to the knees and thighs, and then progressed gradually upward with indescribable dysaesthesia, sharp pain and a feeling of tightness, in addition to sensory disturbance. In August, she also had paresis and numbness of the upper extremities and was unable to get up. In autumn of the same year, blurred vision and speech difficulties also occurred. Several months after stopping the administration of Enterovioform in November, paresis and sensory disturbances showed a slight improvement. However, now she is still not capable of walking and suffers from severe visual disorders and continuous dysaesthesia of the trunk and lower extremities.21

In 1970, Professor Tadao Tsubaku discovered that SMON was caused by clioquinol. In 1971, 5000 SMON victims filed law suits in Japan against Ciba-Geigy. In spite of all the evidence, the drug company stated that there might be another factor to cause SMON, but could not prove any factor besides clioquinol through eight years of examination. The company that had generalized the efficacy of the drug for all kinds of diarrhoea considered all the evidence inadequate to prove the side effects of the drug. The Tokyo district court, however, decided that clioquinol was the cause of SMON.

The next 'scientific' move by Ciba smacked of racism. It said that the Japanese were genetically prone to SMON. That canard was exploded when Dr Hanson found forty cases of SMON in Sweden. It became evident that the high incidence of the disease in Japan was due to overprescription - because the doctor's income in the Japanese health system depends on the quantity of drugs he prescribes. The second reason is related to reductionism and the myth of the universal validity of modern science, which ignores the fact that since the Japanese are of a smaller build than Europeans and Americans, the dose advised per kilogram is relatively large for the Japanese people.

Even the discovery of cases outside Japan was not accepted as an adequate reason to suspend sales of the drug. At the Geneva press conference on SMON in 1980, Dr Sabatkiewiez of Ciba-Geigy stated:

We have no medical reason to be afraid of this drug. I have seen clioquinol used in tropical countries. I know there is need for it, and we have no - I repeat Medical reason to withdraw the produce from the market at this moment.22

As Ciba-Geigy continued to market the drug, SMON victims from Japan raised funds to inform people in other countries of the hazards of the drug. Pressure mounted on Ciba-Geigy when Scandinavian doctors boycotted its product and demanded withdrawal of Mexaform and Enterovioform from the third world. When, in 1978, Ciba eventually announced the withdrawal of the drugs, there was a hue and cry from some doctors in India who could not comprehended why such a 'wonderful' drug was being withdrawn; they did not know that the drugs had been proved to be harmful. And no wonder; for it is in the nature of their science to close the lid on correct and full information, and to disseminate misinformation. That is why the clioquinol controversy did not deter drug companies from continuing to manufacture hazardous drugs on the inexperts' certificates about safety. For, without an adequate and appropriate challenge of the kind that was offered to Ciba, the modern medical system is left free to grow in direct proportion to the damage it does.

Scientific medicine uses different criteria for measuring a drug's strength and weakness. It uses one set of criteria for efficacy and quite another for drug-toxicity. And this is supposed to be a system of knowledge which is 'objective', which has no bias. In the case of Ciba it was because of the involvement of doctors and the public in a campaign that the bias came out in the open. In most cases, the bias lies undiscovered and passes for neutral, objective, universal science.

Simple ailments have been cured over centuries by appropriate use of dococtions made from plants and minerals found in nature. 'Scientific medicine' removes the diversity by isolating 'active' ingredients or by synthesizing chemical combinations. Such processing first involves violence against the complex balance inherent in natural resources. And then, when the chemical is introduced into the human body, it is often a violation of human physiology.

The two most common reasons used to defend the practice of extracting from a plant a more toxic and therapeutically narrow substance are that such a substance is easier to take and easier to standardize and control exactly. But it is questionable to what extent this control is to the benefit of the patient as opposed to the benefit of principles of scientific exactitude. For it often means that a plant with a rich variety of constituents is converted into a pill containing, say, exactly zoo mg of a single compound which is then prescribed in the same manner to everyone. In this case control has been lost, not gained....

The processing and synthesis of remedies is often unnecessary on therapeutic grounds and is carried out only for commercial reasons. There is plenty of evidence now that this purification habit has the inevitable sequel of deriving a pure toxic drug from a harmless medicinal plant. For example, reserpine was isolated from rauwolfia, and used extensively as a psycho-active drug in the West until severe side effects were recognized....

On therapeutic grounds it is often better to leave the components as a balanced mixture than indulge in fruitless and costly attempts at purification. The chemical fish you pull out of a natural produce depends only on the habit you use to catch and identify it. There are always fish left uncaught.23

But it is highly unlikely that medical science and pharamaceutical establishments will pay heed. For the reductionist medical science cannot but manufacture reductionist products and undermine the balance inherent in natural products. The multinationals that produce synthetic drugs in pursuit of fabulous profits and ignore their toxic side effects do not care. When they are forbidden to sell some harmful drugs in the home countries, they find a lucrative market in the third world, where the Úlites, including the medical establishment, are usually bewitched by anything that is offered as scientific, especially if it comes wrapped in pretty pay-offs. They give a free hand to multinationals to buy medicinal plants at dirt-cheap rates and sell the processed pills in the third-world countries at exorbitant prices and at enormous cost to the health of the people. The Úlites cannot accept that it would be more equitable socially, cheaper economically, conductive to self-reliance politically, and more beneficial medically for the third-world countries to use the plants locally according to time-tested indigenous pharmacology.

While multinational drug companies and the third-world political Úlites are out for profits, the third-world intellectual Úlites, eager to prove their scientific temper, join in a chorus to denounce indigenous therapeutics and related knowledge systems as hocus-pocus and their practice as quackery. It is through this mixture of misinformation, falsehood and bribes that a reductionist medical science has established its monopoly on medical knowledge in many societies.

And, as we have seen, the links between modern medical science, violence and profits are not only through politics and economics but also, as in the case of agriculture and scientific forestry, through the internally determined structure and content of the system of scientific knowledge.


Protest against reductionist science is emerging in all spheres. In India, for instance, the famous 'Chipko' movement is a movement against reductionist forestry; organic farming movements are challenges to reductionist agriculture; and health-care movements are projecting alternatives to reductionist medicine.

Since the monopoly of special interest groups over peoples' lives is mediated by the state, these movements have political implications. The search for alternatives to reductionism is basically a political struggle which cuts across material and intellectual domains. The non-reductionist alternatives that people across the world are building together is a non-violent science that respects the integrity of nature and man and truth and seeks liberation of the people, which is what science is, or should be, all about. And when a large number of little people think alike and act together, major changes may well be in the offing, including a change in worldview.

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