Home » Scientific Temper-the need of the hour to fight COVID-19

Scientific Temper-the need of the hour to fight COVID-19

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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An unexpected outcome of COVID- 19 is the growing awareness of how disease is transmitted and what might be done to prevent this. Virtually every TV channel has insisted on washing hands with soap or alcohol-based sanitizer, sneezing into the crook of one’s elbow or coughing into a handkerchief, besides keeping a safe distance from one another. These precautions presuppose an elementary understanding that COVID-19 spreads through the infected person’s cough or sneeze and by contact with infected surfaces. The existence of bacteria and viruses that invade our bodies and cause the infection is also part of this presupposition. In short, this indicates a tacit acceptance of elements of the empirical-causal world view. It was heartening to see even babas and yogis concede that if symptoms include respiratory disorder and high fever, then contacting doctors trained in evidence-based medical system is necessary. Baba Ramdev even admitted on TV that no evidence exists that by drinking cow urine, one could cure COVID-19, even though, he claimed , it could help in preventing it. It does not follow from this that our society has imbibed this outlook on the world, for many astrologers were seen claiming that SARS-CoV-2 was caused by the conjunction of Rahu and Ketu. Some Swamis are convinced that the cure lies in propitiating the virus by performing rituals, accompanied by a cocktail of cow urine, dung and ghee. Even so, it is heartening that when push comes to shove, many Indians might be more willing to rely on evidence-based reasoning than on ineffective, false speculations or brazen misinformation. When what is at stake is life itself, people choose whatever they find is effective. Should we not assume that they do so because at least some of them are convinced that performing rituals is unlikely to produce the desired outcome, but regular washing of hands might? That the Rahu-Ketu story is less plausible than the virus-infection story? This switch from speculative stories involving malignant spirits to stories involving non-subjective, material, observable entities occurs when people themselves experience what works and what does not.

The Scientific temper is a way of life, defined in this contexts as an individual and social process of thinking and acting, which uses the scientific method and which may consequently include questioning, observing physical reality, testing hypothesizing analysing are communicating ( not necessarily in that order). Scientific temper describes an attitude which involves the application of logic. Discussion, argument and analysis are vital parts of scientific temper. Elements of fairness equality and democracy are built into it. The genesis and development of idea of the scientific temper is connected to ideas is expressed earlier by “Charles Darwin “when he said, “Freedom of thought” is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds which follows from the advance of Science and by “Karl Max” when he said “religion” is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of the religion as the illusory happiness of the people which is demanded for the real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.

With these qualifications, we must readily acknowledge that scientific temper is useful in certain contexts and necessary for specific purposes. If so, what are the other preconditions for building it? First, a disposition to not accept any opinion or claimed at face value, or to reject in haste anything that conflict with one’s settled views. For instance, to not immediately accept when told that eating a clove of garlic which reduce high BP, or that the rate of economic growth in India is 70%. A healthy scepticism towards these figures is crucial. Moreover, no claim or data can be accepted merely because it is supplied by those in majority, political power or religious authority. Evidencebased claims are the enemy of prejudice and dogma. Second, good science recognise that truth is always elusive, that all human endeavour, including scientific enquiry, is imperfect, corrigible, in constant need of critical scrutiny and revision. Third, in principle, science is anti-authoritarian. No matter how hierarchical in practice scientific institutions are, or how powerful its leaders, the fact remains that if a research assistant comes up with a result that challenges established scientific claims, then it must be addressed, examined and if confirmed, displace the view held by established authority. So, if scientific temper is important, what kind of public culture is needed to advanced? Who must be responsible to take it forward? And how can we nudge people into evidence =based reasoning not from self-interest alone but from commitment to the common good? Two generations or so earlier, curative pill-popping became part of the wider public culture. Although its misuse, dangers and excesses are well-documented, it can’t be denied that careful intake of pills, under expert supervision and in correct dosage, can help cure infectious disease. With our rather enlightened response to COVID-19, we appear to have reached a similar stage in the public culture of disease of disease of disease preventions. Equally important is scrupulous data gathering. Indian TV channels continually gave figures on how many people are infected by SARSCoV2; the countries where the incidence of disease was high; what percentage died; of those who succumbed, how many already suffered from other fatal ailments; and whether or not a correlation exists between age, propensity to infection and fatality. There is a greater public awareness about the role of data in disease management and prevention. These are small steps towards the wider acceptance of evidence-based reasoning, a tiny victory for the empirical-causal explanatory story of the world. Since these are crucial ingredients of the scientific outlook, one can even say that we have made some progress towards inculcating a scientific temper. Observing, classifying, recognising patterns of regularity and identifying causes are all integral features of science. Yet, not all of us do science. Nor do we need to. What has become increasingly vital for our survival today is that we imbibe scientific temper. Science is important because science works; scientific temper, because in its absence, the benefits of science won’t reach everyone.

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