Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Hot Link

This is from a monograph called The Bias of Science, by Brian Martin, an Australian mathematician. (This quote is from Ch. 9, Part IV of the web version of the book.)

A second important problem area in meteorology is weather prediction and control. Indeed, air pollution meteorology can be considered to be one aspect of this general problem. Once again, this work may seem worthwhile on the surface. But in the context of how it is done, who funds it and has access to research results, and what it is useable and used for, research on weather prediction largely serves to support the existing power structure.

There is relatively little research on weather that is tailored to the needs of small-scale farmers, for example, who might find it useful to have local rules for estimating when freezing will occur or to conveniently determine distributions of sun and wind for use in constructing solar or wind energy collectors. Most research in weather prediction and control is motivated by possible military applications or is oriented towards large-scale studies and interventions that help groups such as airlines and mass production farming operations more than they help small farmers. Furthermore, the research is done by specialists and communicated hierarchically, and is not used to increase the understanding of the people who are affected by its results.

It is important to remain aware of the social and political context of research. The context of weather research is one in which a small percentage of farmers and marketers make a large share of the profits; in which surplus production coexists with malnourished and starving people, both in industrialised and non-industrialised regions of the world; in which the primary reason why centralised monocultures, pesticides and food additives are a normal part of the production of food is not consideration of the needs of the people, but the making of profits, the controlling of markets and the transfer of control over decisions from individuals to companies, bureaucracies and experts. Research on weather prediction and control works within this state of affairs and hence to some degree supports it.

Precisely, and of course the same can be said for insect biology and pest management, plant biology, management science, economics, you name it.

And, we can say the same thing about medical research. Compared to the hundreds of billions spent developing pharmaceuticals, usually no better than ones we already have but potentially marketable, we spend a pittance investigating ways of preventing people from needing those drugs in the first place. How can we prevent so many kids from getting fat and developing diabetes and hypercholesterolemia? How can we intervene more effectively to prevent HIV transmission? Give me a billion dollars, and I can probably get you some good answers. (Or else buy an island in the Caribbean and start my own country.)

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