Nobel Laureate, Sir Peter Medawar, one of the greatest biologists of the previous century, states that one of the properties that set the genuine sciences, apart from those that arrogate to themselves the title, without really earning it, is their predictive capability. He rightly points out that Newton and cosmology generally are tested by every entry in a nautical almanac and corroborated every time the tide rises or recedes according to the book, as it is also corroborated by the periodic reappearance on the schedule of Halley’s Comet,( which appeared as predicted in 1986). Its embarrassing infirmity of prediction has been the most single factor that denies the coveted designation of science for example to “economics”
The question “Do you believe in science ?” has no meaning as every Scientific proposition is verified by either experimental observation or a mathematical equation, before being accepted as a law or a theory. On the other hand, such a question is appropriate, if you are referring to subjects like democracy or communism or some other similar ideology.
There is an anecdote concerning Paul Dirac, the greatest British scientist since Newton, and one of the founding fathers of Quantum Mechanics. The physicist was apparently sitting in his office when some research students visited him. As Dirac was a man of few words, one of the students attempted to break the ice, by declaring that it was raining outside. Dirac got up from his chair opened the window, had a peep outside and softy agreed “Yes, it is”.
What would have appeared as strange behaviour on the part of a great physicist actually represents the quintessential aspect of science—the principle” Don’t take anybody’s word for it” which incidentally also is the motto of the oldest and most famous scientific society, in the world, the Royal Society of London.
Medawar, also states, that in the fulfilling of its “declared intentions” science is incomparably the most glorious enterprise human beings ever engaged upon. The hallmarks of Science are:
(a) Precise measurement and accurate observation of nature’s phenomena;
b) An unbiased attitude of the observer who does not allow subjective views to distort or misinterpret results
c) The ‘consistency’ of results irrespective of the observer and that too in ‘independent frames’ of reference.
d) The sanctity attached to controlled study that automatically involves the inclusion of ‘placebo’ in as far as experiments in Pharmacopoeia is concerned.
Let me analyse medical science, in the light of the above mentioned criteria.
Any medical system which depends on unverifiable claims of being able to cure all diseases in respect of which other systems are said to have failed cannot be called a science. Of late some medical systems have begun to make fantastic claims of being able to cure all diseases under the sun—from Asthma to Cancer( now COVID -19 also). The crucial point to be remembered is that all these systems have not even a minor insight into human anatomy or physiology but borrow ideas liberally from allopathy the only science-based modern medicine.
Let us take a practitioner of homoeopathy. He does not know the difference between the Sigmoid and the Caecum or between the liver and the spleen. Nor is he aware of the various physiological constants or the causes of their fluctuation. His knowledge of modern pharmacopoeia based on chemistry is nil
According to popular science writer, Martin Gardner, homoeopathy had its origin in the mind of a German doctor, Hahnemann. He says that according to Hahnemann there is a “Law of Similia” which states that” like cures like”. In longer words, a drug will cure a disease, if that same drug, taken by a healthy person, will produce symptoms similar to those of the disease- an absurd theory that has no rational basis.
Gardiner adds that a second aspect is the fact that homoeopathic drugs are administered in inconceivably small doses. It was Hahnemann’s conviction that the more minute the dosage, the more potent. Compounds are diluted to me decillionth ( i.e, a millionth of a millionth of a millionth etc up to ten of these millionths) of a single grain. Such dilution is like letting a drop of medicine fall into the Pacific, mixing thoroughly, then taking a spoonful- another theory that defies logic.
According to him, homoeopaths claim that about 3000 distinctly different drugs have been”proved”. He goes on to say that most homoeopathic drugs are made from substances such as powdered starfish, skunk secretion, crushed live bedbugs, powdered anthracite coal, uric acid drawn from human urine or snake secretions. “Research by reliable pharmacologists has shown that all these weird drugs, in the extremely diluted form in which they are taken, are harmless, producing neither symptoms nor cures (except of course psychosomatic ones). Ironically of late homoeopaths are becoming increasingly dependent on textbooks of modern medical science!
This is exactly where many educated persons, including bureaucrats, judges, journalists, and business executives commit a blunder when they declare their belief in some medical system, particularly homoeopathy, which does not depend on scientific criteria. By the same token, they make a colossal blunder when they reject the efficacy of modern medicine built laboriously over the centuries by studying every human organ in detail, analysing diseases and finding cures aided by medical technology and modern pharmacopoeia. No health department of any Government should club all these systems together, as is being done now, for it can cause untold harm, and misery to patients.
Then there are medical practitioners, who can only be described as quacks, and who set up clinics to cure the sick. The typical quack borrows material from textbooks of allopathy, which amounts to theft and fraud. He crushes Penicillin and mixes it with a ‘halwa’-like preparation and passes it off as an ancient cure for a bacterial infection. The concoction will naturally work but there is no need to explain to the reader why it will be effective. So is the case of Viagra. An unscrupulous pharmaceutical company prepares a tablet by crushing viagra in powder form and mixing it with a harmless powder or ointment. The company names it ‘missile’ or ‘bullet’. Any effect it has is obviously due to the Viagra.
Let me now take up the question of science and technology, two enterprises, which though no doubt interrelated, are often confused with each other. The purpose of science is to unravel the mysteries of nature, discover its laws and find out the ‘how’ of things. It is not concerned with the ‘why’ of things. According to Medawar Science cannot be reproached for inability to answer questions beyond its explanatory competence.e.g whether God exists, or whether there is one “scientific method” by which all the secrets of the universe can be discovered. This charge, he argues, is “no more sensible than to reproach a railway locomotive for not flying”.
Technology, on the other hand, is the visible end-product you obtain by applying the laws of nature discovered by science.
Thus, the laws of physics, or chemistry, or the factors that govern the human physiological system fall within the purview of science whereas the application of these laws would fall within the ambit of technology. Likewise, quantum theory is pure science whereas the invention of various devices like transistors, computers. cell phones etc based on its principles would be regarded as technology. Similarly, the elucidation of the structure of the DNA molecule is quintessential science whereas the development of techniques and tests based on DNA, which is used in connection with the detection of crime would come under the purview of medical technology.
We cannot deny the importance of ‘technology’, an enterprise that has enabled man to derive immense benefits in almost every field of human endeavour. Apart from the above-mentioned inventions, televisions that beam programmes round the clock all over the globe, sophisticated medical diagnostic procedures like MRI, CAT scan, etc, are also examples of technology.
But we must not lose sight of the fact that without the discovery of basic scientific principles, no technological breakthrough could have been made except of course through sheer chance.
Our modern-day executives, bureaucrats business magnates and even computer programmers who bandy about jargon like ‘user-friendly’, ‘download’, “random access memory’, “hardware” and floppy discs’, at the drop of a hat, would do well to remember that the whole edifice of computer technology would not have come into existence but for pioneers of pure science like Faraday and Maxwell laying the foundations of electromagnetic theory. The average person is so bedazzled by technology, the end-product of science, that he seems totally oblivious of the scientific theories and principles on which they are based.
So entrenched is this attitude, namely, the adulation of technology and lack of appreciation for the science underpinning it, that one finds it difficult to change the outlook of not only laymen but of even so-called educated people.