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  • Aanya Bhushan

Science as Democracy

In science, all knowledge of the universe has been categorised into three domains: the known, the unknown, and the enchanted. ‘The known’ is the knowledge that humanity knows through centuries of experimentation, repetition, observation, and conclusion. This remains true in all situations regardless of the time or place therefore; it is called a law. A law is repeatable under all conditions and allows us to predict an action or a reaction. ‘The unknown’ is the great mystery of the universe that is yet to be ventured into. ‘The enchanted’ are the emotions and arts that science cannot reasonably define because of its unexplainable qualities.


In 2019, a new way of classifying science was introduced: Big Science. In this, certain areas of science are kept on the frontier based on their urgency and importance for the society and its well being- such as stem cells, quantum biology, and machine learning. According to Alvin Weinberg, who coined the term, Big Science is characterised by large-scale instruments and facilities, supported by funding from the government or international agencies, in which research is conducted by teams or groups of scientists and technicians. Several bright-minded scientists guide and supervise the development of these certain sectors in science. This makes certain scientists the producers of science, which makes us as non-scientists, the consumers of science.


However, why do we need Big Science? How will it help ordinary people in their routine activities? Big science has already begun reaching people in need. For example, several women in villages had to trek miles in the scorching summer heat, just to provide water for their families. Packaged water had been given as a solution, which had not solved the fundamental problems of the women in the area, which was the lack of fresh water in their homes so that women do not have to walk kilometres. Now, because of the development of better wells, these women in rural areas do not have to worry about walking for hours to receive pure water every day, and this has solved the complications in hundreds of villages in Maharashtra. This was possible because their problems were moved to the frontier, which highlighted the issues of ordinary people.


Nonetheless, what about the people that are not on the frontier? How will they receive the support of science? Major water problems have been resolved, but what about the other issues of women in villages? A crucial problem Indian women in rural areas face is the use of chulhas for cooking. Several women have complained about the suffocating smoke and the constant need for wood as it burns out fast. Why is this issue not on the frontier? The problem is in the way science is delivered. We need to bring out problems to the frontier, resolve them and proceed to newer issues. What solves these issues? Vernacular Science.


Vernacular means something or someone culturally native or unique to an area or group of people. With vernacular science, societal inconveniences can be identified and inspected. This makes vernacular science the science of the people. This is the first step to solving issues. Every problem demands to be solved. By the principle of vernacular science, the issue must be solved by teachers, students, local agencies, and experts native to the area utilising the method of science, that is, via experimentation, observation, fieldwork, analysis and documentation. The solution to the problems must be solved with a synthesis of disciplines. For example, the village water problem was solved by groundwater, economics and community thinking. It is crucial that various parts of the known must be utilised to solve the problem, and these solutions should be exclusive to the certain area’s problem.


Unfortunately, vernacular science is not yet applied in the current generation of science. Various scientists argue that this is not only science but also social science. Does this mean that the complications of ordinary people can be ignored by science researchers? No. The very purpose of science is to describe reality, and if reality is a combination of social and technical science, then it must be studied as a whole. Regarding the village water issue, groundwater modelling and community economics are their own uniquely complicated divisions of science. Vernacular science brings ordinary people closer to science and makes it accessible to everyone. When science is available to ordinary people, people can start solving problems for their homelands, which makes big science more accessible to all.


Making science accessible to all is a highly crucial goal in the 21st century. Billionaire masterminds such as Elon Musk can make expensive cars with near complete automation, extreme comfort to bioweapon machinery, but they cannot provide the average Mumbaikar with cost effective and delay-free public transportation or build smooth roads for those who reside in mountainous regions in the Himalayas. We can travel the universe, land on the Moon, orbit Mars, capture images of the Sun. We can spend millions of dollars on discoveries. While these discoveries are important and credible, what do they bring to the immediate community?


Traditional science focuses on theory and new inventions, while vernacular science focuses on the problem and its solution, making it application based with immediate results that enhance the lives of the unfortunate. These discoveries are important, but they hold little value to those deprived of the most basic necessities. We need vernacular science for the interest of the community and its latest affairs and solve them one by one.


Traditional science and vernacular science are not completely distinctive of processes. Traditional science begins with reality and discoveries and then scientists come up with theories amidst the process. Vernacular science also starts with reality, but the reality in this case is the issues of a particular area, and the scientists are local agents, teachers and experts. They work collectively to form a working model, as their aim is to deliver solutions. Through repeated efforts, the working model can be improved, and reality can be delivered. This makes vernacular science ‘the science of delivery’.


The next question is: Where will vernacular science be located? It can be located in a unique type of university that can be considered a cultural asset to society. Its aim will not be to research in a particular frontier of science, but to serve humanity by solving social issues and guide the market. It will run on the principle of role models, trust, sustainability, and equity.

The Big Science model has many issues, such as increased inequity, decreased employment, selective privilege and unsustainability. Vernacular science will accomplish what big science cannot: provide equal resources for all. How can we fix the Big Science model? We can add a new frontier that aims to make sustainable life secure and comfortable instead of comfortable life more sustainable. We need to develop a new paradigm of science which adopts the abstract intellectuality of Global Science and the nativeness and delivery of Vernacular Science. It should be able to synthesise the diverse disciplines of science and deliver customised solutions depending on the condition area and its people. We must connect science with the understanding of social, political and cultural systems so that science can develop into more than chosen scientists and privileged frontiers. Science can be a democracy: A culture of the people, for the people, by the people.



Bibliography:

  1. Dennis, Michael Aaron. “Big Science.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 May, 2017. Web. 26 Oct, 2022. <www.britannica.com/science/Big-Science-science>

  2. Esparza, José, and Tadataka, Yamada. “The Discovery Value of ‘Big Science’ - PMC.” PubMed Central (PMC). 11 Oct. 2022. Web. 26 Oct, 2022.<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2118535/>

  3. Morris, Chris. “Elon Musk’s 10 Greatest Inventions Changing the World.” CNBC. 14 Nov, 2015. Web. 26 Oct, 2022. www.cnbc.com/2015/11/13/elon-musks-10-greatest-inventions-changing-the-world.html.

  4. Sohoni, Milind. “Vernacular Science: The Science of Delivery | Prof. Milind Sohoni | TEDxIITBombay.” YouTube. 23 Jan. 2019. Web. 26 Oct, 2022. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKJj6j_1gWg>


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