Is modernity really failing? Or have we failed to appreciate progress and the ideals that make it possible? The headlines of today governed by pandemic have radicalized the interpretation of progress. The less attractive picture has been drawn before us and the global currency of modernity is devalued. The alienation of nations, immobile human beings and ‘to each its own’ policy adopted to fight the pandemic have led to disenchantment. The symptoms of institution failure in these testing times have been highlighted awaiting prognosis.
However, the power of scientific knowledge is the only bright spot that remains undimmed and guiding all of us through the difficult times. The era of superstitions and assumptions have been replaced by science. We must acknowledge that the progress of science is no accident; it has its own days of turbulence, reason and eventually delivering us products of evolution. The amount of scientific information on Covid-19 that is laid before us for scrutiny such as genome sequencing, the epidemiological data, testing information, collaboration for vaccine which has guided our public health policies and pubic reasoning is worthy. In this piece we will explain how science has provided a pathway every time human species is forced to deal with various kinds of infectious disease and a reason not to change your plan.
The Walk of Science
In the Great Escape (2015), Deaton writes ‘Ever since people rebelled against authority in the Enlightenment, and set about using the force of reason to make their lives better, they have found a way to do so, and there is little doubt that they will continue to win victories against the forces of death’. This could not be more true give the situation we all are collectively placed. For most of our human history epidemics have caused millions of death, wiped out civilizations and causing sudden misery of populations.
To take few examples from history which shows the ruthless nature of infectious disease yellow fever, a viral disease transmitted through mosquitoes, acquired the name as the victims turned yellow before succumbing in agony. The 1878 memphis epidemic accounts the horror of this viral disease. In 1836, the then wealthiest man in the world Nathan Meyer Rothschield died of an infectious disease sparing not the rich. Willian Henry Harrison the 9th United States President died of septic shock thirty one days later after the inauguration in 1841. The superstitious human being then perhaps now also has confronted the diseases with sacrifices, bloodletting and other quackery.
However, late 18th century and moving into the 19th century the invention of vaccine and the acceptance of the germ theory, there was a shift in how we responded to the disease. John snow one of the founders of modern epidemiology in 1854 identified the source of cholera in London. Ignal Semmelweis (1818-1865) and Joseph Lister (1827-1912) promoted the idea of sterilizing hands and equipment before a surgery. In 1955 Jonas Salk and a team at University of Pittsburg declared the Salk’s vaccine to be safe. A billion lives were saved. This is how the story of scientific invention unfolded by starting to conquer the diseases.
In the midst of misinformation due to the Covid-19 pandemic it becomes pertinent to make a strong case for the legitimacy of science and scientific information. Jeff Desjardins in collaboration with World Economic Forum highlights fifty inventions and advancement with the theme of ‘Will to Live’. The list is only indicative of the science assault on pestilence.
Year Invented Technology Number of Lives Saved
1850 Anesthesia 50 million
1913 Blood Transfusion 1 billion
1919 Water chlorination 175 million
1928 Anti biotics 200 million
1935 Anti-malarial drugs 50 million
1960 Rational Drug Design (birth of modern pharmacology) 6 million
1968 Oral Rehydration Therapy 50 million
1970 Radiology 25 million
1976 Angioplasty 15 million
1985 HIV/AIDs treatment 15 million
2010 Medical Management Apps 2,50,000 per year
2011 Artificial Organs for Transplant 1,50,000 per year
2013 Brain Mapping( to treat mental illness) 4 million
Note- Even though conservatives estimates are drawn more than 5 billions lives are saved by hundreds of scientists.
Convergence of Scientific Faculties in Pandemic Times
We have to appreciate of the growing number of scientists and scientific discoveries done with an increasing frequency. Unearthing the trappings of civilization through scientific innovations whether good or bad are done rapidly, as our environment is altering rapidly. In fact the current Covid-19 pandemic as well as other infectious disease outbreak was consequences of our altering environment. It is against this backdrop we must look at the role served by scientists in our society.
The frenetic search for Covid-19 vaccine could add to one of the hero stories of science but they will not do justice to the way science is done. The absurdity of science when it begins its journey almost always ends in lucidity. Steven Pinker highlights this notion of justice in science ‘Scientists, stand on the shoulders of giants, collaborate in teams, toil in obscurity, and aggregate ideas across worldwide webs. But whether it’s the scientists or the science that is ignored, the neglect of the discoveries that transformed life for the better is an indictment of our appreciation of the modern human condition.’
The global trend of disease have seen eradication of small pox and scientist eye the decimation of polio, measeles, rubella, yaws, sleeping sickness and hooking worm by 2030. The use of vaccines has led the cases drastically fall in malaria, HIV/AIDs, Diarerhea and Pneumonia between the periods of 2000-2015 saving millions of life. This impressive conquest of disease by marks the ongoing progress of science.
The current Covid-19 global pandemic has seen science being the key and the most powerful contributor of knowledge. The medical institutions, healthcare industry, governments, thousands of scientists are using the scientific knowledge and resources to combat this pandemic. From building upon the science that came before, cutting-edge research is being done towards a solution.Even our national and global politics have adopted the language of science to communicate with their citizens and subjects. The fruits of science not only lie in high-tech pharmaceuticals but they also comprise of simple ideas (such as hand wash) which saves millions of lives. The collision of scientific culture will reshape our place in contemporary culture henceforth.
Jitamanyu Sahoo & Syed Mujtaba Hussain are Research Scholars working in (Comparative Heath Law, Human Security & Constitutional Law).