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The Politics of Pure Science in Uganda

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By Oweyegha—Afunaduula

When Daniel S. Greenberg wrote his pioneering, controversial, and groundbreaking book “The Politics of Pure Science” some years back, no doubt, it set a new standard for the realistic examination of the place of science in politics and society as a whole. Dispelling the myth of scientific purity and detachment, Daniel S. Greenberg documented in revealing detail the political processes that underpin the finding of science by governments. He wrote the book primarily to show the political influences on the funding of science in America from the 1940s and 1970s.

While there is far more academic politics on university campuses around the globe than freedom of thought and independence of mind in the pursuit of standards of excellence, the politics of common sense is undermined and the politics of pure science hyped at the expense of genuine critical thinking, genuine interaction, and sustainable education in the academia. In the poor countries of the world such as Uganda, what is obtained on our university campuses, including the relationship of the university and the greater society, reflects colonial constructs and post-colonial politics and education.

Both colonial constructs and post-colonial politics not only aim to glorify the purity of science but also to separate the university enterprise from the greater society, which was considered more or less a pollutant.
Common sense, which is critical in the greater society, was squeezed out of the university enterprise to create a new artificial human being called Homo academicus, who is frequently individualistic, inward-looking, arrogant, closed, undemocratic, oppressive, repressive, and pre-occupied with narrow agendas of power, domination, and influence.

Some of the products of Homo academicus outside the university setting may transform the political field to service greed and selfishness through a combination of coercion, consent-production, and inculcating within the society at large a ‘common sense’ privileging the cultivation of patronage ties. Such products of the education system may relink with Homo academicus to destroy the academia and the intellectual fiber to serve their narrow interests of power, glory, exploitation, wealth, and domination.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar’s (2018) “The Politics of Common Sense: State, Society, and Culture in Pakistan” articulates and clarifies well the common sense of privilege desired by the power at the expense of the common sense of restraint, community, love, oneness, and joint progress. David F.K. Mpanga’s (2020) “The Politics of Common Sense” reveals that “there is an overriding notion that certain things are supposed to be left to those in/with power. As a people we give our leaders a lot of power over us that they equally take for granted abusing it to the best of their ability”. He goes on to state “…some things are not political statements; they just require common sense”.

Of course, Mpanga has in mind the common sense that was resident in the heads of the members of traditional societies where we who say we are educated came from. The old men and women who were units of such common sense are, unfortunately dying off. No wonder Mpanga asks, “What happened to our common sense?” That was the common sense of restraint, communalism, belonging, and local democracy. Unfortunately, most of our rulers today in Uganda belong to the pastoral nomadic human energy system. Naturally, this human energy demands that the nomadic pastoralist manifests more as an individual in his grazing system attached to grass and cow in one of the shortest food chains on Earth.

He only rejoins his family when he is back at his kraal (or domicile). It was, therefore, not surprising. It was also not surprising that one time President Tibuhaburwa Museveni was widely cited saying that he works for himself, his family, and his grandchildren. The colonialists and post-colonial rulers formed a continuum of thinking that power means “building by destroying first” at the expense of traditional common sense in favor of the common sense of privilege. This has not only enabled power to erode the cultures of indigenous peoples but also the ethical fiber of countries. It has ensured that power can easily penetrate the academia and retune them to serve. Consequently, the recent political penetration of academia has exposed even more the truism of the purity of a myth, not a reality.

In this article, I want to concentrate on the Politics of Pure Science in Uganda. A dictionary definition of pure science is “a science depending on deductions from demonstrated truths, such as mathematics or logic, or studied without regard to practical applications”. The truth is demonstrated within a discipline behind rig walls. Discipline-specific knowledge has been defined as “a set of understandings…it is the sort of knowledge that is specific to the discipline or profession and defines a specialist in the area”. Knowledge workers within a discipline, especially in the natural sciences, boast their small knowledge being pure. They pride themselves on the purity of knowledge. Purity of Knowledge implies knowledge not polluted by what the five senses of man perceive nor by culture, spirituality, politics, ethics, morality, or by human choices, feelings, or sociality.

It is for this reason that there is universal talk of the idea of the Ivory Tower, a state of privileged seclusion or separation from the facts and practicalities of the real world. It is an unreal world frequently called the academic world. This is the world of colleges and universities called academia. If you like school, then you might enjoy academia, which is also known as academe. People in academia include students -college and university students, specifically. Then there are the assistant lecturers, senior lecturers, associate professors, and professors, who teach the students.

Apparently, they form a hierarchical unit of subordinates and superiors whereby growth and development are highly controlled. However, this happens within three, minimally interacting fields of knowledge (or territories that are called faculties (or territories) as opposed to the disciplines (or academic tribes) that compose them. The broad fields, that have recently been baptized schools, are usually the Arts or Humanities, Social Science, and Natural Science. These form dimensions of one science, but universities are structured to separate them so that even functionally there is no connection between them. Therefore, when we talk of a university with a Vice-Chancellor, Senate, Council, and Appointments Board, by structure and function it is not an integrated whole.

It is a system where interaction is highly regulated to achieve the goals of each of the many disciplines in the Faculties or Schools, including ensuring that the disciplines of knowledge are pure or remain. However, where there are people from different people with different prior notions, backgrounds, and expectations, it is a tall order to ensure the purity of knowledge. A lot of politics, sometimes called academic politics, often causes intrigues, conflicts, and unfair denials and rewards.

It is unlikely that such an academic environment will nurture and encourage critical thinking and transmit sustainable education for prosperity. Indeed, where there are people and institutions, integrated or not integrated, there will be politics. Politics helps all to know their rights, clarifies what we believe, is a breathing and talking area, helps us understand inequalities in society, why there are injustices in society, why some are unfairly privileged, and prepares the young for adult life. It helps us understand that there are political regimes that are truly democracies, totalitarian, authoritarian, and hybrid.

My concern here remains the politics of pure science. It all began in the modern times in Europe. Before then all knowledge was philosophy. Philosophy held and still holds that Knowledge is always a true belief; but not just any true belief; Knowledge is always a well justified true belief well-justified true belief. Accordingly, philosophy does not rhyme well with the purity of science it puts beliefs at the center of knowledge. It is the antithesis of pure science. No wonder when the disciplining of knowledge began and advanced in modern times in Europe, philosophy was marginalized from the body politic of science in such big universities as Oxford and Cambridge even if it had been all the knowledge.

It became a small, inconspicuous department of philosophy scholars and students. However, people who studied and obtained Doctor of Philosophy degrees did so without philosophy it was what remained of what was once a predominate field of knowledge. Paul Lucier(2012) in his article “The Origins of Pure and Applied Science” Isis, Vol. 103, No. 3 (September 2012) in Gilded Age America” published in Isis, Vol. 103, No. 3 (September 2012), has told us that both Pure Science and Applied Science were in use in the early part of the nineteenth century.

H. A. Rowland, in his article “A plea for Pure Science” published in Science, Vol. 2, No. 29 (Aug. 24, 1883), pp. 242-250, emphasized the significance of pure science. The rise in the currency of the terms Pure Science and Applied Science reflected an acute concern about the corruption of character and the real possibilities of commercializing scientific knowledge. “Pure” was the preference of scientists in the natural sciences who wanted to emphasize their nonpecuniary motives and their distance from the marketplace or from the social sciences and the humanities.

“Applied” was the choice of scientists who accepted patents and profits as other possible returns on their research. In general, the frequent conjoining of “pure” and “applied” bespoke the inseparable relations of science and capitalism in the Gilded Age (Lucier, 2O12). However, overemphasis on the purity of science and applied science meant the narrowing of the minds of scientists and their separation from the marketplace of ideas in the wider body of knowledge.

The marketplace of ideas is a rationale for freedom of expression based on an analogy to the economic concept of a free market. The marketplace of ideas holds that the truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in free, transparent public discourse and concludes that ideas and ideologies will be culled according to their superiority or inferiority and widespread acceptance among the population. The concept is often applied to discussions of patent law as well as freedom of the press and the responsibilities of the media in a liberal democracy.

When I set out to write this article my intention was to write on the politics of pure science in Uganda, not a marketplace of ideas, but the deviation here was meant to let you know how considerations of money and profit expose how pure science has become increasingly a myth globally. The ideology of purity of knowledge has taken on new dimensions in Uganda, with the Uganda government, which funds public universities and registers all private universities in the country, penetrating the university enterprise and demanding that the natural sciences and associated professions are academically preferred. It has shown a preference for knowledge workers in the natural and associated professions by hiking their salaries severalfold over those of the knowledge workers in the Humanities (Arts) and Social Science.

This has not only introduced divide-and-rule strategies in academia, but it has also created the impression that knowledge workers in the natural sciences and related fields of knowledge and practice are superior to their counterparts in the Humanities and Social Science at a time when the worldwide Web dominated higher education demand greater integration and interaction in the academia.

Besides, it has created the thinking among natural science-based academics that pure science is a reality, at a time when new sciences variously called the alternative sciences, the new knowledge cultures, the new knowledge systems, the team sciences, the sustainability sciences, the convergence sciences, and the learning sciences are gaining currency and influence on global university campuses. The new sciences are demystifying the purity of science as they create new and different ways of generating knowledge and interacting in knowledge production beyond the boundaries of the disciplines.

These new sciences, which I have defined in other articles on knowledge integration in higher education are interdisciplinary science (interdisciplinarity), crossdisciplinary science (crossdisciplinarity), transdisciplinary science (transdisciplinarity), and extradisciplinary science (extradisciplinarity). All these sciences seek to link the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences, on the one hand, and all with the greater society, thereby including numerous stakeholders in the science enterprise.

Therefore, it is a myth to continue holding to the ancient belief that there is something called pure science when the Worldwide Web dominated world demands greater teamwork and interaction. If there are still academics who are pursuing purity of science and leaders urging them on, it has nothing to do with doing science to fit us in the 21st Century and beyond. It is to resist the new sciences for privilege either in or outside the universities.

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