Vandana Shiva has fought for changes in the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food.
Intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, bioethics, genetic engineering are among the fields where Shiva has contributed intellectually and through activist campaigns.
Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as non governmental organizations, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women's Environment & Development Organization and the Third World Network.
Reductionist science simplifies a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it.
Shiva states that any method of knowledge that offers a social benefit is not scientific.
However, reductionist science often resorts to misinformation in order to establish its monopoly on knowledge—resulting in violence against the object of knowledge, the subject of knowledge, and the beneficiary of knowledge and against knowledge itself.
The subject: inflicted socially through the sharp divide btw the expert and the non-expert (converting the non-experts into non-knowers)
The object of knowledge: violated when modern science destroys the integrity of nature, robbing it of its regenerative capacity.
An example of this is the ecological crisis worldwide. Oil spills, drilling disasters, global warming etc.
People (especially the poor) seem to be the worst victims of this violence, though modern science claims that people are ultimately the beneficiaries of scientific knowledge.
Reductionist science resorts to suppression and falsification of facts and this commits violence against itself. And science should be the search for truth. (p.233)
Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.
Epistemology knowledge, science or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions:
What is knowledge? How is knowledge acquired? What do people know? How do we know what we know?
Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to connected notions such as truth, belief, and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims.
The body follows the laws of physics. The mind (or soul), on the other hand, was described as a nonmaterial entity that lacks extension and motion, and does not follow the laws of physics. This form of dualism or duality proposes that the mind controls the body, but that the body can also influence the otherwise rational mind, such as when people act out of passion.
Shiva reiterates this idea about the reductionist method when she states: “…it fails singularly to lead to a perception of reality in the case of living organisms such as nature, including man, in which the whole is not merely the sum of the parts…” (p.236)
We can think of the brain or the soul of the body as the “expert” and the body itself as the rest of the mechanical system or the “non-expert”.
Shiva argues that reductionist science is a model, a way of looking, a mode of thought… however, it is unreliable (p.236)
A controlled experiment in the laboratory is a central element of the methodology of reductionist science. A scenario is created for the experiment.
Shiva argues that “All this is the stuff of politics, not science. Picking one group of people (the specialists), who adopt one way of knowing the physical world (the reductionists), to find one set of properties in nature (the reductionist/mechanistic), is a political, not a scientific act (p. 236).
“As a system of knowledge about nature, reductionist science is weak and inadequate; as a system of knowledge for the market, it is powerful and profitable.” (p.239)
Each herdsman sees himself as atomized individual who is pitted against the rest of the community in a deadly competition for grabbing as much of the common goods as he can In all societies production is not for satisfaction of needs, but for exchange in a monetized market with a view to making immediate profit Every herdsman is so short-sighted as to sacrifice his future survival on the altar of immediate gain. (p. 240)
Hardin’s example and his assumptions are very similar to Smith’s idea that all people are born acquisitive (greedy) and they are motivated and aggressive. This is a state of Nature for Smith…people will always go for maximum wealth and gain.
-There are too many people, however and not enough resources.
Ex: Peak oil, which becomes more scarce and valuable.
Lifeboat ethics is a metaphor for resource distribution.
Hardin's metaphor describes a lifeboat bearing 50 people, with room for ten more. The lifeboat is in an ocean surrounded by a hundred swimmers. The "ethics" of the situation stem from the dilemma of whether (and under what circumstances) swimmers should be taken aboard the lifeboat. The lifeboat metaphor presents individual lifeboats as rich nations and the swimmers as poor nations.
Source: Wikipedia !
The gravest consequence of desertification is famine and has already contributed to the death of over 900,000 people in Ethiopia. Starvation deaths are also occurring in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa. (p.242)
“The reductionist response to desertification is itself a prescription for desertification.” (p.242) Their solution ignores the evidence that eucalyptus upsets the cycle of life, the hydrological cycle and the nutrient cycle. Eucalyptus emerges as a magical candidate for afforesteration programs during the 1960s because it is a fast-growing species. But that has since been challenged with the notion that there are other indigenous species that have a higher rate and don’t contribute to desertification. (p.243)
Forestry experts refuse to accept the evidence that Eucalyptus is damaging “…presumably because it hurts their own dominance and that of the interests they serve.” (p.244) Experts use controlled experiments to justify the propagation of eucalyptus and reduce scientific fact and reality to a fallacy. (p.245)
Here we are shown an example of the reductionist view as an ideology that will benefit a capitalist market while overlooking the people that are directly affected by their decision-making. (Epistemological violence, lies, untruth)
Photo: Organic Consumers Association -- Carlitos, child of farm workers, born with birth defects attributable to pesticides (PBP). Source: Sarasota/Manatee Farmworker Supporters
Reductionist science is concerned merely with the existence of pests, not with the ecology of pests. The don’t care that nature has its own way of killing off pests, they don’t take into consideration that the health of field workers and consumers is at risk and that the effects are devastating. We constantly consume pesticides…we may not see effects immediately, but who knows what will develop after 20 years? (p.249) Reductionist science would rather take the risk for political gain. They commit “violence” by using scare tactics.
Though medicine is presented as an area in which modern science has the most achievements and success, there is increasing evidence that modern medicine has become a source of disease and death itself. (p. 250)
The reductionist science “…shifts the focus from the patient to the disease and applies solutions which result in violence on the patient, both through drugs and the side effects of drugs.” (p.250) “The doctor is not interested in equilibrium, he is at war”
Scientific medicine reduces the problem of diarrhea to the existence of a discrete entity in the gut that can be cured only by drugs. However, diarrhea has always been common and traditionally managed by diet control and hydration. (p. 250)
Manufactured by Ciba. Patients in Japan began to show signs of a neurological disorder called SMON of which symptoms included: loss of sight, loss of function of legs, loss of bladder control, and constant pain in the legs. (p.251)
-Attempts to convince doctors not to publish their negative experimental findings were made by Ciba. The cost of this : the crippling of an estimated 10,000-30,000 people in Japan. (p.251)
Even despite findings and evidence that SMON was caused by Clioquinol –Ciba stated that the Japanese were genetically prone to SNON though 40 cases of the disease had been reported in Sweden.
Overprescribtion: there was high incidence in Japan because the doctor’s income in the Japanese health system depends on the quantity of drugs he prescribes. (p.252)
Another reductionist error: The Japanese are of a smaller build than Europeans and Americans and the dose advised is relatively large for the Japanese people. (p.252-53)
“The links between modern and medical science, violence and profits…. are through the internally determined structure and content of the system of scientific knowledge.” (p.255)
Again the expert in this case urged that there was absolutely no reason to get this drug off the market, despite all the evidence proving that it was a danger to patients. “We have no medical reason to be afraid of this drug.” (p.253)
The Chipko movement is a socio-ecological movement that practices the Gandhian methods of non-violent resistance, through the act of hugging trees to protect them from being cut down.
Reductionist Science as
Presentation and summary by:
Global Flows Fall 2010
About Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva is is a
activist, eco feminist and author.
Reductionist Science as Epistemological Violence
Modern science is violent even where the objective of
scientific research is not violence, but human welfare
Modern science is quintessentially reductionist.
Economic structure based on exploitation, profit
maximization, and capital accumulation
+ The linkage between modern science and a
profit-based economic system can be
discerned in the following examples:
* Violence is committed against the subject of knowledge, the
object of knowledge, the beneficiary of knowledge and against
Assumptions that guide modern science
The Ontological Assumptions
A system is reducible to its parts
All systems are made up of the same basic constituents which are
discrete and atomistic
All systems have the same basic processes which are mechanical
The Epistemological Assumptions
Knowledge of the parts of a system gives knowledge of the whole
Experts and Specialists are the only legitimate knowledge seekers and
The Politics of Reductionism
Descartes in his Passions of the Soul
and The Description of the Human Body
suggested that the body works like a
René Descartes: “The Father of Modern Philosophy”
The controlled experiment
A threefold exclusion in this
Ontological in that other properties
are not taken note of
Epistemological in that other ways of
perceiving and knowing are not
Sociological in that the non-expert is
deprived of the right both of access to
knowledge and of judging the claims
Profits, Reductionism and Violence
“Reductionism is related to the
needs of a particular form of
“Every firm and sector
measures its efficiency by the
extent to which it maximizes
its gains, regardless of the
fact that in the process it also
maximizes the social and
ecological cost of the
Adam Smith’s idea that people are
born Acquisitive and Aggressive. If
you free people, they will always go
for maximum wealth. People
constantly seek pleasure.
+ Reductionist Ecology: Garrett Hardin’s
Tragedy of Commons & Lifeboat Ethics
Commons: property for all…
Ok maybe not all, but for some.
Eucalyptus Planting &
Attribute to the loss of soil moisture
Diminish soil nutrients.
Damages the allelomorphic capacity of all
The reductionist response:
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) is
planting eucalyptus in Ethiopia
World Bank, SIDA, USAID have coaxed India
into putting farmlands under eucalyptus
People who for centuries have been planters
and protectors of trees have suddenly been
Decrease plant resistance
Increase pest attacks and the need
for even more pesticides
Absorbed by plants and animals in
Indiscriminate killers; kills the
natural enemies of pests
Carlitos, a child of farm workers, born with birth
defects attributed to pesticides
“The effect of not spraying tropical
crops would of course be disastrous,
and the resulting famine would be the
greatest disaster the world has ever
know”. –D.G. Hessayan of the British
Reductionist science shifts
the focus from the patient to
the the disease
It applies solutions which
result in violence on the
“Diseases brought on by
doctors are a greater cause
of increased mortality than
traffic accident and war-
related activities.” – Ivan Illich
are reduced to hocus-
pocus and their practice
Homeopathic doctor in Khunti, India
alternatives are needed
which respects the
integrity of nature and
man and truth
Science = Liberation of
Vanda Shiva participates in the famous
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