Whose Science? The Facts


new internationalist
issue 182 - April 1988

[image, unknown]

Science will solve our problems. Or so we are assured.
But today's science looks more set to destroy us than save us.


· More than a quarter of the world's scientific research and development (r & d) budget is spent on defence and over half a million scientists are currently engaged in the development of new military weapons.1

· US spending on military research is soaring. In just 10 years it has gone up from $13,000 million to $47,000 million per year. By contrast r & d spending for all civilian research went up from $10,000 million to a modest $17,000 million.

· The Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars) research programme alone costs $3,900 million a year. This sum could provide primary school education for 1,400,000 children in Latin America - that is more than the entire child population of Nicaragua.

· One average nuclear weapon test costs $12 million dollars - the equivalent of training 40,000 community health workers in the Third World.2

Missiles or medicine
The table below shows how much of its scientific research and development budget each country spends on defence compared with medical research.

[image, unknown]

Third World countries import expensive military hardware from the rich world. The table below shows how much each country spent on importing arms compared with how much spent on health in 1987.2

[image, unknown]

[image, unknown]

Pharmaceuticals are a high-profit business. Giant companies argue they need profit margins of around 30% to enable them to invest in research into life saving drugs.4

· But of the 25,000 drugs being sold in the world, only 200 basic drugs are needed to treat the majority of the world's diseases.5


Western science dominates the world today and exclude other modes of scientific thought - some of which were well developed in many parts of the Third World before the incursion of Western Imperialism.

· During the 15th Century BC the Vedic thinkers of the Indus Valley had knowledge of arithmetic that far exceeded that of Greek mathematicians 1,000 years later.

· In South Asia the Vaisesika school had developed an atomic theory nearly 1,500 years before such speculation began in Europe. Asian atomic theory continued through to the 18th Century.

· The Inca and pre-Inca civilizations of Peru had sophisticated and extremely accurate knowledge of hydraulics. Inca irrigation and terraced agriculture enabled the cultivation of 40% more land than today.

· Chinese acupuncture has been used to treat illness for 4,000 years. Only recently has it begun to gain wider acceptance in the West.6


[image, unknown] Today rich countries have a virtual monopoly over science. This blocks Third World development:

· In the US there are 2,500 researchers per million of the population; in the UK the figure is 1,000 and in Canada, 900. But in Brazil there are only 70 and the continent of Africa has a mere 20 per million.1

· Of all the scientists engaged in r & d 92 % are in industrialized countries (both capitalist and communist). They command 98% of the global r & d budget.1


History is dotted with women - although patriarchy has done its best to deny their existence.

· Women worked as doctors and surgeons in Egypt prior to 3,000 BC.

· Science and technology in Ancient Thins were advanced by women engineers.

· Hypatia was famous in fifth-century Alexandria for her books and teachings on mathematics, philosophy, mechanics and technology. But she fell foul of the fanatical Christian Patriarch, Cyril, who ordered her execution in 421 AD.

· Hildegarde of Bingen's Liber Simplicis Medicinae showed the extent of women healers' knowledge during the Middle Ages. But the Church-condoned witch hunts of the 15th and 16th centuries sought to destroy the power of these wise women'. Millions were tortured and killed before medicine was taken over by male physicians whose science was grounded in logic' and studying the works of Plato rather than observation, experience and the accumulated wisdom of forbears.8

Today the number of women scientists is increasing slowly - but remains tiny in comparison with men:

· It has taken 25 years for the total of women doctors in the UK to go up from 8% to 12%. In the most sought after - and best-paid - field of surgery the proportion of women has increased from 1% to 2.5%.9

· In the US the proportion of women getting doctorates in science and engineering has risen from 7% in 1965 to 25% in 1980. The greatest increase has been in engineering where the total rose from 0.8% in 1970 to 14% by


Poor people are far more likely to suffer from the damaging side-effects of science than rich people:

· The dangers of cancer-inducing asbestos have been known since the 19th Century. But workers are still exposed to the killer dust which is exported, mainly by Canada, for use as a building material for poor people in developing countries.

· The 3,000 people killed and 400,000 injured by poisonous gases which escaped from Union Carbide's plant at Bhopal in 1984 were poor people working in or living around the factory.

· North African immigrants work as casual labourers in the French nuclear industry to carry out tasks involving the greatest risk of exposure to radiation.11


The enormous risks associated with nuclear power are well known. And yet, instead of pumping money into researching alternative sources of energy, more and more nuclear reactors are being built.

· Even if the world's nuclear reactors are phased out over the next 25 years there would still be a 95% chance of an accident on the scale of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. In the UK alone there is a 21% chance of a Chernobyl-sized nuclear accident.12

· Not only is solar energy safer for us all, it can also be a lot cheaper. A study by the US Federal Energy Administration has shown that with a $500 million investment in photovoltaic cells, electricity could be produced at $500 per kilowatt. The $2,000 million Clinch River nuclear fast-breeder reactor is set to produce electricity at 10 times the price.13

1 UNESCO, Impact of Science on Society, No. 145, 1985.
Ruth Leger Sivard, World Military and Social Expenditures, 1987-88.
OECD, STi indicators 1987, 1980.
Scrips Pharmaceutical Company League Tables, 1982/3.
UN WHO, World Health, 1983.
S. Goonatlake, Aborted Discovery, Zed, 1984.
UNESCO, Siatistical Yearbook, 1987.
M. Alic, Hypatia's Heritage, Women's Press, 1986.
The Lancet, London, May 30 1987.
A. Kelly, Science for Girls?, Open University Press, 1987.
D. Gill end L Levidow, Anti-Racist Science Teaching, Free Association Books, 1987.
Nature, Vol 324,18/25 December 1986.
F Cepra, The Turning Point, Fontans, 1982.

previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page next page

Subscribe   Donate