When Science Goes Awry: The Missing Social In Scientific Pursuits

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Right in the beginning of the 13th century England when the scientific developments had come has a breath of fresh air promising progress for human civilisation. Till date the wonders created by scientific achievements at that time has no doubt made us feel grateful for its contributions. However, scientific discoveries and experimentations have not been a seamless saga of constructive developments always. The first time when the progressive rhetoric of science was challenged was during World War I from 1914 to 1918, which was then the largest scale of destruction mankind had ever witnessed. However, this was soon to be followed by a second debacle in 1939 to be tipped by the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945.

The scientific individualism exemplified by the idea- science for its own and science for science’s sake- excises itself from any kind of social responsibility and accountability for its actions. It is this escapism that one sees being played out in the pharmaceutical wing of Bayer’s position on Nexavar- its latest cancer drug. The CEO of the company had stated earlier in January this year that the life saving drug is meant only for westerners who could afford it and not for Indians. This attitude of international turks smacks of hypocrisy who seem to follow and demand as their right a unilateral line of bargaining in the world market. While cheap labour and land makes developing nations hot spots for manufacturing, the market is always restricted to the wealthy sections. For one thing, the argument that the cost of production makes it imperative to sell products thought of as pricey and costly falls through as the entire logic of establishing a manufacturing unit at a location rest on:

  • The availability of cheap labour and land;
  • The potential of a promising market or a pre-existing demand.

Both these factors imply that the cost of production is significantly reduced to an extent that reduced pricing is the logical conclusion of the reduced costs involved. Therefore, even if the prices remain same as before when the manufacturing unit is say located in one of the First World countries where standard labour, land and resource prices are likely to be higher, the profit necessarily increases because of saved capital.

The collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 is another instance of exploitation of the Third World Countries which are not in a position to make safety standards and improved working conditions binding on both the parties- the service and resource providing nation and the funding nation-cum-industrialist. The bilateralism in such trade agreements and contracts seem dubious since the industrialists tend to wash off their hands or turn a blind eye to the depravities and exploitation on which such a trade agreement is based on. Even the exploitation of labourers involved in cashew plantation and processing in India and Africa presents a similar case of self-induced and deliberated apathy on the part of America and Europe, where cashews are supposedly the favourite nut.

Coming back to the issue of cancer-saving drugs, there has been a stellar growth in the number of cancer patients from 2001 to 2014. According the World Health Organisation (WHO) the total number of cancer patients in 2014 are 3.3 million as against 800,000 patients back in 2001. Cancer leads to 700,000 deaths annually and as many as 1.1 million new cases get added every year. Much to the dismay of Bayer, unlike India,estimates reveal that there has been a 20 percent decline in the incidences of death due to cancer for the past two decades in the West. Estimates further state that there will be 1,665,540 new cancer cases and 585,720 cancer deaths in the United States in 2014. The figures themselves indicate where the need and urgency is greater and for a field of the science that takes an oath to serve and save lives, denying the right to live and be treated is against the very tenets of its profession and being. Thus, medical science as well science in general can only enjoy a position of eminence and esteem only when it is made relevant to the social needs of the world and not when it seeks to solely further its economic pursuits at the cost of human lives.

Pallavi Ghosh

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