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Monday, 18 July 2011

Devivaru, Arsenic and Science - III

My reply to Prof. Carlo Fonseka can be postponed as it is more abstract, and compels me to go into a discussion on the so called Scientific Method at a deeper level than in the case of replies to Professors Oliver Ileperuma and Upali Samarajeewa. Currently what is more important is the direct impact of the comments by these learned scientists on research into the Rajarata Kidney disease and I would like to delve into the articles by Professors Ileperuma and Samarajeewa. Mr. Suranimala’s article that appeared on 11th July needs no elaborate reply as he is arguing at the level of a schoolboy. He merely says if Devivaru are capable of identifying Arsenic in samples of soil and water then there is no use of laboratories and scientists as the Devivaru could advice us on everything. The fallacy of his argument lies exactly there. From the experience of Arsenic he generalizes to other phenomena as well without knowing that even if the Devivaru are capable of giving us knowledge on all topics in a given field, they would not do so for the simple reason that their “divya balaya” would vanish if they do so. I do not want to go into a detailed discussion on this and all that I have to say at this juncture is that the samyak drshtika devivaru would communicate to us only that knowledge needed to make Sri Lanka a Dharmadweepa again. The devivaru are interested in taking out the farmers from the modern western agriculture which not only adds poison to food, in spite of so called food scientists of the caliber of world renowned Dr. Upali Samarajeewa who describes himself as an international expert in laboratory accreditation addressing the food safety issues associated with global trade, but also kills pests. It may be that in this era of super specialization Dr. Samarajeewa’s expertise is more on laboratory accreditation rather than directly on food safety issues. The devivaru are interested also in the welfare of the pests and also of the farmers, and want the latter to refrain from killing pests using pesticides with or without Arsenic. They are also interested in curing the Rajarata Kidney patients and any knowledge communicated to us would be along those lines. Certainly the devivaru would not tell us in advance the winner of the next one day international match Sri Lanka cricket team would play nor the winner of the next horse race.
We will first take Dr. Samarajeewa who albeit being an international expert has not done his homework properly. For example in his article on the 24th of June in “The Island” he says: “According to the information released to the press by the scientists who claim presence of arsenic in Sri Lankan rice, they have detected concentrations of 0.1 ppm. According to the information released by ITI concentrations of 0.334, 0.166 and 0.370 have been reported for 3 out of 28 samples tested and the Agriculture Department has indicated that those breed lines reported by ITI to be high, would be withdrawn. While these findings indicate presence of arsenic, the detected concentrations need not be used to create a public alarm, rather than addressing at the forum of scientists to bring in necessary controls, if required.” The figures he quotes from ITI are related to three brands of pesticides and not rice. A world renowned scientist is not supposed to mix data whether with respect to arsenic or food.

It has to be stated that the Registrar of Pesticides (RoP) is trying to confuse people or he is confused as to what is found in the samples of pesticides. We at Kelaniya have analysed 28 samples of pesticides and found that all of them contain Arsenic to some extent or other. The ITI on the other hand found Arsenic in 9 of the samples. What we are interested is in the presence of Arsenic and not with whether Arsenic found is associated with certain Chemicals or not. When the (RoP) tells the public pesticides contain only in three chemicals people are confused to say the least.

In any event our primary investigation is not on the presence of Arsenic in rice as we are interested in finding the cause(s) of Rajarata Kidney Disease and in finding a cure for the unfortunate victims who have no hope whatsoever in western medicine that does not know the origin of the disease. We have found Arsenic in rice though not in somewhat high proportion it is found in rice produced in USA. Rice has been given prominence by the media and unfortunately the government and some well meaning people have fallen into the trap of the importers of pesticides. They claim that there is no Arsenic in any pesticide that they import, but the Sri Lanka customs has taken steps to retain some containers with pesticides for presence of Arsenic based on tests done at other laboratories as well. Apparently these importers want to file a case against me in the courts of Sri Lanka, and I welcome the idea as I would be able to address the people from the courts. If somebody wants to ring the alarm bell on Arsenic in rice let him do so but for us it is not a big issue as rice is not a cause of the Rajarata Kidney Disease and we know that people do not die as a result of eating rice and curry.
Dr. Samarajeewa concentrates on his pet topic of method. Almost all the scientists in Sri Lanka are engaged in normal science in a Kuhnian sense and they are very much bothered about the so called scientific method though not in the sense of Prof. Carlo Fonseka. It is unfortunate that almost all the so called scientists in Sri Lanka are technicians who follow standard techniques given in text books or research papers, and most of them would not have heard of Popper, Kuhn or Feyarabend. I have come across Professors in Chemistry in Sri Lanka who have not heard of Theoretical Chemistry. For most of the so called scientists in Sri Lanka the scientific method is nothing but procedure that has to be adopted when doing tests. It is all about collection of samples, testing them under so called proper conditions, washing of test tubes and beakers, digestion, heating, using acids and other chemicals with “proper” concentrations etc. These may be important but as far as the scientific method in epistemology is concerned they are mundane practices and nothing more. I am not a believer in the scientific method even in an epistemological sense and I am more than happy to hear that the importers of pesticides have decided to indict me in courts as it will give me an opportunity to show not only that there is no scientific method but that matters concerned with science can be decided by people with no formal knowledge of science. This is an important issue as it has repercussion in the area of publication in so called research journals on which “scientists” such as Dr. Samarajeewa have very adamant views.

For these so called scientists the most important in western science are the so called method which is nothing other than procedures and publication in peer reviewed scientific journals. As I mentioned last week Dr. Samarajeewa has given inadvertently an example that goes against his argument that the western scientists should publish in peer reviewed journals. He has mentioned the case of a brilliant scientist from Sri Lanka who had withdrawn an article published in Nature (Nature and Science are supposed to be the pinnacle of scientific journals) after it was shown by scientists other than the reviewers that the content and conclusions, not the so called method according to Dr. Samarajeewa and others, were wrong. I have been informed that, according to an article published in “The Economist” some thirty percent of the papers published in Nature and Science after peer reviewing are found to be wrong within two or three years of publication. So much for so called peer reviewing by experts in the field.

Publication of scientific journals is also big business with Nature group publishing more than thirty journals. Research is funded by armed forces, big companies like agro chemical producers, government in countries such as Sri Lanka through the Universities, research institutes etc., and publication of scientific journals is not different from publication of newspapers as far as the proprietors are concerned. There is no democracy at all in the publication industry in the field of science, and proliferation of scientific journals in the recent past gives ample testimony to the control of these journals by big industry.

I am for publication in journals (may be e journals) without so called peer reviewing to which even the general public can contribute and should have access in any event. The fact that the Arsenic issue has become public is good as after all it is the politicians who would finally take important decisions regarding banning or not of pesticides with any toxic material. The politicians however corrupt they may be are responsible to the people, and at least once in a few years they have to go before the public, where as the so called scientists are not responsible to the general public once they are appointed to various posts. The politicians when they have to take decisions will have to consider the will of the public at least to a certain extent and we have to make science or knowledge for that matter of the official practitioners. As said of war, science (western or otherwise) is too serious business to be left in the hands of scientists only.

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva