Chapter XXXXX cynical Science: Science and Truth as Cultural Imperialism



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Chapter XXXXX




Cynical Science: Science and Truth as Cultural Imperialism

Bernd Hamm




  1. Introduction

This chapter argues that our western concepts of science and truth are used to legitimate interests aimed at the suppression and exploitation of nature and humans. They are used to mask the destructive character of western political-economic interests. In doing this, science and truth have become ideologies. As such, they tend to benefit the “Power Elites” (C.W. Mills 1965)1 of society and, of course, the scientific community, at the cost of the population at large. The forced global imposition of this understanding of science and truth is part of cultural imperialism.

This thesis is formulated in negative terms: It criticizes western science but will not propose alternatives. Theodor W. Adorno, one of the leading figures of the Frankfurt School of sociology, has coined the term “negative dialectics” and argued that a critical analysis of existing reality implicitely contains its antithesis. This is not the place to go deeper into the issue of other knowledge systems (for a discussion of this see, e.g., Goonatilake 1998).

My intention is not to follow-up on Johan Galtung’s (1971) understanding of scientific imperialism (as a sub-type of cutltural imperialism) which still holds the assumption that science is a serious attempt to find out “the truth” (the imperialism in it being rather that valid objective science exists but is misused in the interest of power), but rather to challenge this assumption. Science has become in the course of history, or ever was, so closely associated with, and subservient to the interests of the cadres that the idealistic idea of science appears as a major instrument to safeguard access to and influence on these cadres, i.e. a professional ideology.

The chapter will explore this thesis, first, by recapitulating the western definition of science and truth as objective and value free. It then moves on to some observations which do not comply with this self-image: The relation between science, money, and power; the rise of neo-liberalism; science and the problem of sustainable development; the Americanization of science; and university reform as experienced in Germany as part of the Bologna Process.

These observations contrasted with the ideology will lead to a diagnosis of cynical science. Finally, the globalization of such cynicism will be discussed.



2. The Ideology of Science and Truth
“Knowledge” may be defined as the way in which humans categorize, encode, process and impute meaning to their experiences. This is as true of scientific as of non-scientific forms of knowledge (Studley 1998: 1). There are many different ways to acquire knowledge: through logical reasoning; sensual perception; intuition; authority and conformism; or through devotion and love. An experience made according to certain rules commonly accepted in the community of scientists is called “scientific”. Irrelevant as this code might be for the majority of ordinary people, it has still succeeded in gaining strategic influence among cadres.

Knowledge is acquired and processed in the context of world views, of systems of knowledge and of cultures which people share and regularly confirm to each other. It is built into existing frames of reference, evaluated and selected, and meaning is attached to it, and tied into the historical experience of a given society. It is neither autonomous nor objective but rather bound into those social conditions under which people live, and influenced by the social position of an individual in his or her society and the respective material living conditions. The sociology of knowledge (beginning with Karl Mannheim, 1893-1947) has provided ample evidence for this (see, however, the critical review of Mannheim’s approach by Adorno 1955), and many empirical studies have explored the images of society held by different social strata and professional groups. Such paradigms which are relatively resistant against change do also exist in science, as Thomas Kuhn (1962) has argued.

In everday life, we accept a statement as “true” if it is confirmed by the rules of everyday experience, if it seems reasonable, if it is held true by people we love and respect, or if it is confirmed by secondary information. A statement is taken to be “scientifically true” if it has been published in a highly reputable volume and is taken for granted by respected scientists, or if it has been tested according to the rules of scientific methodology. Karl Popper’s insistance that the truth of a statement can never be objectively confirmed in scientific rigour and that the scientific method demands to falsify well-established hypotheses, and thus gradually narrows the field of potential truth, is of only theoretical value (Popper 1960). It does not count very much in real practical research because new hypotheses are being continuously generated and tested in the hope of verification, while sets of well established hypotheses being falsified is the exeption.

In extra-scientific everyday life, sensual experience, the opinion of a reference group, but mostly the mass media are relevant proofs of truth. In most of the sciences the empirical proof of truth is made by statistical tests based on probability theory, while quoting from the bible, or from a classical author has lost in persuasiveness. Mathematics is seen as an objective basis for rational arguing. Empirical phenomena are supposed to be translated into the language of numbers to become scientifically accessible by mathematical transformation. Truth can be calculated, according to common belief in the scientific community.

The methods of scientific discovery are conventional; they rest on culturally specific consensus. However, we also have to assume that there are different ways towards achieving knowledge, which might well lead to different results. Scientific education and training transfer such conventions. Therefore, is is important to understand who is entitled to determine the existence of such conventions, and on which criteria. Despite the obvious need for such careful reflection, the current common practice is that European (and other) social scientists tend to accept those statistical and methodological procudures which are the fashion of the day in the US as the standard for the relevance of our own work. The way into “refereed journals” seems to be more often paved with sophisticated statistics than with theoretically relevant arguments. How often do we find heavy statistical artillery used to shoot at theoretical mice!

According to its self-image, science has to be independent and value free, leaving the scientist devoid of all external restrictions. There is only one goal, i.e. pure, purposeless knowledge. No political, economic or other non-scientific interest should intrude into and divert the scientific process. Only then is it guaranteed that science will come continuously closer to the truth. Curiosity is not only part of the inner nature of humans but also serves the benefit of humankind at large. The scientist has one and only one task: to engage in pure research and make his or her knowledge available to others. He or she bears no responsibility beyond this. This is why the nation-state maintains universities and guarantees the freedom of research and teaching (sometimes, like in Germany, even in the constitution). National governments are well advised to invest in science because, at least in the long run, science will lead to wisdom and betterment, but also to competitive advantages, and thus to innovation, to growth, to employment and income. Globalization increases the validity and the relevance of this argument.

It is true, there are problems. Education, science, innovation and growth are believed to be the means to solve them. According to this logic, many problems have their cause in the fact that people are not scientifically educated, that they act in their traditional, “irrational” ways. Scientific progress is seen as the solution for all our problems: diseases will be eradicated or healed, environmental damages prevented or repaired, poverty and hunger overcome, non-renewable resources substituted, crime and drug abuse prevented, life-time extended and eternal youth achieved, development enforced and material welfare secured for all. Scientific progress is the panacea for all deficits.

The idea of a reality which opens itself to scientifically objective insight, that problems are the simple consequence of insufficient knowledge, is very tempting. First, it provides a welcome excuse because nobody is responsible for the deficits in scientific knowledge. Secondly, it allows us to delegate the solution of our problems to others. If science has not yet sufficiently proceeded, we’ll invest in it and wait. Our believe in the principal perceptibility of the truth would provide a firm point of reference from which meaning could be derived and valid judgments be made and justified - and we would know what to do. For centuries it was religion which provided this fixed point: a quote from the bible was the key to wisdom. With Renaissance and Enlightenment the church has lost much (though by far not all, as some tend to forget) of its authority. The competence to establish the objective truth has been attributed to science. The reputation of science depends largely on its ability to render this service to society.

Of course, this image of science has always been put to doubt. Remember, among many, the case of Robert Oppenheimer, the American nuclear physicist who developed with others the atomic bomb and who, after observing the disastrous consequences of this development in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, became an outspoken critic of armament research and was politically prosecuted. But this has been portrayed as an isolated case and has not done serious damage to the public image of science. Scientific inside critics like those in, e.g., the Pugwash movement are marginalized.

There have always been, in all disciplines, individual voices calling for an ethical foundation of science. Often these ethical scientists have been criticized by the mainstream, who argue that they oppose intellectual freedom and the freedom of research, and hence, that they are against democratic thinking and might even advocate state directed science. This would, of course, ultimately serve the interests of the ruling class - ironically making scientists with a strong ethical foundation alleged proponents of political totalitarianism.

Value freedom, purposelessness and non-responsibility are seen as primary virtues in those very institutions which serve the self-administration of science and receive gigantic sums of money for research funding. They still provide the yardsticks for academic education and are being used to justify the privileges which scientists enjoy in our societies, especially in the rank of professors.

In an article on “Western Domination in Knowledge”2, the Sri Lankain writer Nalin de Silva (2002) addressed this problem very directly, arguing that: “Western science is supposed to be making attempts to understand the objective reality, and the truths or whatever that is taught by the westerners is said to be objectively valid. The entire European modernism that began in the fifteenth century with Renaissance, is based on objectivity, reality, and absolute truth.” Science, then, is the process of the gradual and methodologically standardized approximation of objective reality. However, to be in a position to assess the degree of approximation, we should already know the objective truth. In other words: a classical circular argument. Even if we assume, continues de Silva, that there is an objective reality which we can apprehend and which we can appropriate (“know”) - even then the process of appropriation is subjective, or relative. There is no way to appropriate an objective reality objectively, i.e. equally valid for all at the same time. Even the concept of objective reality is formulated subjectively (a very similar argument has been advanced by Feyerabend 1979).

To avoid overgeneralization, it needs to be noted that “western” or “modern” science are by no means homogeneous bodies. There are “intellectual styles” (Galtung 1988: 27) in different societies, and there have always been dissenting voices among the disciplinary mainstreams, marginal epistemological positions with greater or smaller numbers of proponents. The characteristics described above refer to the mainstream.


  1. Observations

The following observations provide some accidental empirical information, although not systematical research, on the ideology of science described above. They are used here as arguments to put the validity of the assumptions presented into question and thus open the door to better insights into the real, i.e. supposedly cynical, nature of science.




    1. Science, Money, and Power

Those who are interested in science as a social institution are using a line of arguments different from the above, and they arrive at very different conclusions. First of all they will stress that science is a way to secure one’s living. Scientists need money not only for their research but first of all for their and their families’ physical survival and comfort. Thus, scientists will be inclined to conduct the very research they are being payed for; who the commissioner is might be of secondary interest. The theory of cognitive dissonance may help us understand why and how people payed for doing a certain job will tend to find positive justifications that exactly this job has to be done and is useful for society (Festinger 1957). Those concerned with science as an institution will perceive a complicated network of universities, institutes, research departments at public administration and private corporations, and cannot ignore the permanent struggle for competitive advantages, for reputation, money, power and influence among them. While the allotment of such privileges in industry depends on the scientist’s ability to deliver marketable results, the system is more complicated in universities: Academic criteria of quality are generally based on disciplinary achievements like the number, volume and place of professional publications, fund-raising, conferences organized, quality of teaching - but not necessarily would they include the capability of the scientific efforts to contribute to practical problem solving. In sociology, e.g., it is possible to have tenured professors teaching the sociology of work and industry who have never seen an industrial workplace from close; teaching political science does not presuppose to have ever attended a legislative meeting on whatever level, or seen a department of public administration from inside. In the academic sphere, careers can be made by writing books on issues deduced from books written by people who know reality from books.

Career promotion and popularity are primary goals for scientists at least until granted tenure. How does one attract the attention of others in a scientific community? Who is in control of the resources one needs to secure a relatively comfortable and privileged life-style of an academic? To what extent does this depend on the intellectual quality and originality of one’s work? For one thing it is important to be active in professional organizations and their research committees. This binds him or her firmly into disciplinary ties. For young academics, this is the prime job market. Secondly, it is very important to invent or discover something new, give it an easily memorable title and call it “paradigm change”. In sight of the many paradigm changes I have seen declared in my own narrow field of specialization Thomas Kuhn would have serious doubts that his Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) has really been read and understood.

The overwhelming proportion of scientific work done is, however, in applied research. Scientists and their work are expensive investments which only very few can afford. One of those is private business expecting a high yield of monetary return; the other is the state spending tax money mostly for armament research which, again, is highly profitable with little risk. Science is no longer there to help us understand who we are, where we come from, how we relate to our natural environment, or where we want to go. It does no longer (if it ever has) work out potential futures and submit them to democratic debate and decision-making. There are few scientists who do that - but they are enclosed in small circles. By far the overwhelming part of science is there to yield profit - in terms of money or in terms of votes. Responsibility for the one world, intercultural understanding, priorities common to all humanity - they are almost non-existent on the agenda of scientific endevaour. “Technology ... has cannibalized science” (Nandy 1987: 45). Science is dominated by the perceptions, interests and worldviews of those who can afford to pay for it.

Scientists have been more successful than others in asserting their self-image almost undisputedly in the public. The media support this image by interviewing scientists for every minor issue, to declare the truth. Courts of law and public administration need armies of scientists as experts; and in the political arena scientists play their role as consultants, in expert committees and fact-finding commissions. Throughout, the nimbus of independence, objectivity and incorruptibility is carefully maintained. It is only in the backroom that cynical attitudes may be expressed: You can buy any desired expertise if you only select the suitable expert, and pay him or her accordingly. But it is also in the interest of the people in those backrooms to openly declare their deep believe in the objectivity of the scientific endeavour. It is this coincidence of interests which binds the two spheres, the power cadres and the scientists, so intrinsically together.

Ninety-five per cent of all global funds invested in research (which is almost exclusively dominated by the west) go into applied research. Of this, some 65 per cent is tax money used by governments for armament research (Nandy 1993: 383). Space research, astronomy, nuclear fusion, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence or microbiology and genetic engineering are of no short-time recognizable value for normal people in our societies which would certainly have serious doubts against investing much money in these areas - but they are connected with new business fields and gigantic profit expectations, and sometimes with presidential elections. Huge sums are being invested in such areas, while - according to official documents signed by heads of state (e.g. at world conferences over the last decade) - other areas of research affecting the real needs and misery of millions of human beings are severely lacking behind.

There is neither value free purposeless science nor scientists dedicated exclusively to “the truth” or the “common good”. The self-image of science serves as an ideology to camouflage the real use of science in our societies. I make this argument not on the individual level, but on the structural level where those conditions are formed and maintained which channel science and scientists in the direction of servants of economic and political power cadres.


    1. The Rise of Neo-Liberalism

Neo-liberalism, i.e. the ideology that every sphere of society would best be organized by market rule where the state has no say (also called market fundamentalism), made its way in a combination of four elements: High-funded right-wing think tanks engaged in framing all problems of society in this context; this included especially the so-called Nobel Prize in Economics; the Washington Consensus as the dogma of structural adjustment policy; and epistemological cleansing after the collapse of the socialist regimes (see, for an extended analysis, Hamm 2004).

Starting in the 1960s, conservative intellectuals worked to fashion a political ideology that would allow the different conservative groups to coalesce under a single umbrella. The trick that intellectuals used to reconcile the conflicting viewpoints of religious conservatives and economic conservatives was to treat „the market“ as something like a divine force that always calls for moral behavior. The consequence has been a collapse of business morality: Infectious greed has been institutionalized in the corporate suits. „The excessive compensation, the manipulation of balance sheets, and the avoidance of taxes are by now all too familiar“. At the same time, regulatory institutions are in a state of disrepair because the free-market mantra insists that regulation is illegitimate and unnecessary (Powell 2003).

Conservative think tanks have framed virtually every issue in their perspective. They have put billions of dollars into changing ideas and language. Wealthy conservatives set up professorships and institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective. They set up the Heritage Foundation in 1973, and the Manhattan Institute after that. Conservative foundations give large block grants year after year to their think tanks. They build infrastructure and TV studios, hire intellectuals, set aside money to buy a lot of books to get them on the bestseller lists, hire research assistants for their intellectuals so they do well on TV, and hire agents to put them on TV. Susan George (1997) and George Lakoff (1996) provided more details on how neo-liberal ideology was deliberately manufactured, and how it was spread across the US and Europe.

The „Nobel Prize in Economics“ can be seen as part of this venture. Few people are aware of the fact that no such thing exists in reality. Rather what became known as the Nobel Prize for Economics is the „Prize of the Bank of Sweden for Economics in Memory of Alfred Nobel“ neither funded out of Nobel’s fortune (but by the Bank of Sweden) nor given according to the same rules and procedures as the real Nobel Prizes. This is important because of the outstanding prestige Nobel Prizes garner as the most authoritative recognition worldwide in the respective field. Despite the thousands of university chairs in economic sciences all around the world, 40 out of 51 Laureates since the inception of the prize in 1969 were US citizens or working in the US, nine of them at the University of Chicago alone. Ten prizes were awarded to economists in Western Europe, one single to a Third World economist, and none to the East. The man most influential in selecting Laureates was Assar Lindbeck. In 1994 he published a book entitled “Turning Sweden Around”, which called for a profound change of Sweden's welfare state.

The Washington Consensus and with it structural adjustment policy began long before John Williamson published his Ten Commandments (1990) as the „lowest common denominator of policy advice being addressed by the Washington-based institutions to Latin American countries as of 1989“ (Williamson 2000). He admitted that while he invented the term of Washington Consensus, he did not invent its content but rather „reported (emphasis added) accurately on opinions in the international financial institutions and the central economic agencies of the US government“ (ibid.). It never was what the name suggests: a consensus reached, after sound scientific research, in negotiations between rich and poor countries to alleviate poverty and the foreign debt burden. It was not even an explicit agreement among the rich majority of the International Financial Institutions but rather tacitly supported by the majority of votes of their member states.

„The ‚Consensus‘ was drawn up by a group of economists, officials of the US Government, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It was not even formally ratified by the countries it was imposed on. It has been, and still is, an authoritarian exercise, greedy and unsupportive, whose champions try to justify it on the grounds of the supposedly unquestionable economic-scientific character of its guidelines.“ (Tamayo 2003).

Former World Bank senior vice president and chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, criticized the way in which a uniform neo-liberal version of the Washington Consensus is being imposed on indebted countries. Stiglitz acknowledged that in most countries subjected to structural adjustment, and especially in the transition countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the more or less uniformly applied medicine did not reduce poverty nor did it reduce the debts burden, nor lead to economic or environmental stabilization (Stiglitz 2002). Going one step further, Michel Chossudovsky (1997, 2004) accused the IMF and the WTO of having caused terrible poverty, exploitation, and war.

Finally, the collapse of the socialist regimes. This is not the place to recapitulate how and under which inner and outer circumstances this collapse happened. However it is evident that this event was followed, in all Western and Eastern European countries, by a process of epistemological cleansing. Socialist regimes, so the argument goes, failed because, among others, they had been based on theoretical foundations which, by the collapse, became empirically falsified. Therefore, Marxist thinking had proven false and had to be eradicated, and with it all leftist and dialectical approaches. Intellectually miserable as the argument might be, it was swept through all schools, universities and across the media, and served to extinct or at least totally marginalize irksome thinking. Thus, the epistemological spectrum in economics today is in fact characterized by an overwhelming majority of neo-liberals, plus some Keynesian economists which might go under the rubric of „repressive tolerance“, to borrow an expression of Herbert Marcuse. In the perception of the political sphere as well as of the public, economics became homogenized to serve the ideological interests of the rich and applaud the deprivation of the poor.

Paradoxically enough, the victory of Western style democracy and open competition of ideas and opinions over alleged streamlined socialist ideology has led to the extinction of most critical voices, and the streamlining of thought along crypto-capitalist lines. The intellectual brainwashing was most succesful in the Eastern European transition countries. Although people there should be more informed and skeptical about the blessings of capitalism, their naiveté and their innocent beliefs are surprising and easy to exploit.


    1. The Science of Sustainable Development

Two groupings of cynisists can be observed around the concept of sustainable development: Those who understand the problem and pretend more research is needed before steps can be taken to solve it on the one side, and the Greenwash scientists on the other.

Structurally, scientists must be interested in leaving problems unsolved, or in inventing or appropriating new ones, because this guarantees their further funding. Sustainable development is a perfect example: Considerable sums of money are being invested in researching the conditions in favor of sustainable development. Most of this is in vain because those conditions can easily be enumerated and are well known, the simple baseline being that rich countries have to cut their consumption of natural resources by something like ninety per cent to become globally sustainable. But action is not taken because of powerful adverse interests. In this case, research is used as a pretext not to act.

Our systems of power distribution are not at all sensitive to, and our decision-making mechanisms resist, the idea of sharply reducing natural resources throughput. The best empirical proof is the position of the US ghovernment in the entire follow-up process of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. We don’t need research on this, we need practical action in the rich countries. Still, in Germany alone we may invest something like ten million Euros annually in sustainable development research, and do little. The German government’s strategy for sustainable development presented to the World Summit in Johannesburg in September 2002 is a telling example: On some 300 of the 360 pages the governments explains that its entire political program has been based on the sustainable development requirements, followed by a meager description of some very few projects it envisages for the years to come: no clear goals, no time-frame, no actor, no control mechanism, no sanctions in case of failure (Perspektiven fuer Deutschland, 2002). The opposite, by the way, is true of the European Union. At the Goteburg European Council (2001), a sustainable development strategy for the EU has been adopted which belongs to the best concepts one can imagine in this field – but actions lags heavily behind.

The important point here is that while it was (few) scientists pointing to the threats of biological survival on Planet Earth, it is also (many) scientists who don’t care at all for practical solutions of the problem but rather are interested in exploiting it for getting money, reputation, and public attention. It is not only their egoistic self-interest they serve in doing so but also the egoistic interests of the power cadres who clearly perceive the challenge formulated by sustainable development as a systemic, an antagonistic conflict.

It is a good recipe for prominence in the sciences to contest an established paradigm, and if the paradigm goes against the interests of the powerful, contesting bears all chances of a high yield in terms of money and publicity. This is what Greenwash strives at. Bjorn Lomborg, professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, became the most prominent recent example of this breed in the ecological field. His basic recipe is simple: Challenge all evidence on the global environmental catastrophe, set against it an idea of environmental improvements, and underly all this with an impressing number of statistics. You don’t need to understand even a small part of the complexities in ecology to do this. What you need is a prominent publisher (Lomborg 2001).

The potentially subversive field of sustainability science (Kates et al. 2000) would reside somewhere in the broad fiel of social sciences. We do know what he need to act according to the precautionary principle, but we don’t act. Sustainable development is not so much lacking more natural science knowledge or engineering skills (though both can be improved) but rather the possibilities of understanding, and change in social organization, distribution of power, decision-making. Reality is full of hypocrisy: The German National Science Foundation, e.g., in its public declarations, is in full support of transdisciplinary action-oriented research on sustainable development, with a strong social science component – the reality is, however, that in all such efforts funding has been declined, or discontinued after a first phase, leaving behind fields of rubble of discouraged approaches and deep frustration. No wonder, the social sciences care little about sustainable development.



    1. The Americanization of Science

In Western science, the peak of the pyramid is usually assumed to be science in the US. Western scientists are supposed to follow rather closely what happens in their field in the US, have close connections with their US collegues and derive many of their hypotheses from the US literature (which would give them at least a tiny little chance to get their own writings published in the US). A US scientist, at least in the social sciences, may publish relatively trivial things which are far from being new to Europeans with average education; yet he or she can still be sure to attract a lot of attention and citations in other parts of the West (“Communitarianism” would be one of many candidates). Those who do not follow the US literature closely enough are seen as parochial. The reverse way of thinking does not exist. To find a paper by a non-American author published in one of the US refereed journals gives proof of highest disciplinary esteem. Just as the US mass media seldom follows non-American news, so also the US scientific community seldom pays attention to developments in other parts of the World. American ethnocentrism has, once again, recently been demonstrated in the OECD comparative study of pupils’ knowledge in geography. Non-American social scientists are supposed to publish in English, and see their papers refused for inadequately mastering the English language. On the other hand, it is much harder to find American social scientists who have gained their academic reputations because of their familiarity with French, Spanish, or German developments in their respective disciplines.

What is pushed to prominence in US social science is defining the mainstream. As in all other spheres, the ability to delineate mainstream and margin is an expression of a power structure where few rule and many obey. Indeed, cultural domination of the US is part of a political program (Brzezinski 1997).


    1. University Reform

Traditionally, the German system of higher education was exclusively state-funded, non-competitive, non-hierarchical, and combined teaching and research. For students it was free from tuition. Under the German federal system, universities were part of the second tier, the Land administration; the federal government had very few competences in framework legislation and infrastructure funding. Although there was a certain differentiation in status and income, professors were tenured civil servants from the beginning. They enjoyed a high degree of autonomy secured by the constitutional principle of freedom of research and teaching (art. 5.3 of the Constitution). There was no evaluation of academic performance, neither by students nor by peers, heads of department, deans or rectors/presidents. It was not before 1990 that the first university ranking was published (Der Spiegel 1990). It was very much debated and mostly denied.

Statistically, Germany produced less university graduates per age cohort than other countries, and it took them longer to graduate. Of course, such information should control the quality of education to be of any validity. Moreover, Land governments were heavily indebted and looked for ways to cut university budgets. Both elements pressed for university reform. They switched to block grant funding using as pretext the alleged increase in university autonomy. First elements of evaluation were introduced, and rankings became more common. In May 1998, ministers responsible for education of some bigger European countries met in Paris to adopt a declaration demanding for a common European system of education. Only one year later the Bologna Declaration was signed by 29 European governments aiming at a unified European system of higher education to be implemented until 2010. Bachelor and Master programs should replace the traditional ways of graduation, transferable credit points, accreditation of programs and quality control were introduced. This is seen as a step towards world-wide standardization.

We should not forget at this point that the EU, negotiating for its member states, commited itself to liberalize education in the context of the General Agreement on Trade in Services of the World Trade Organization as early as 1994. Lobbying for a multilateral services agreement began in the USA in the early 1980s when the companies who had joined forces in the Coalition of Service Industries were able to put the subject on the agenda of the Uruguay Round. This might help to explain the widely executive character of the standardization process. (Scherrer, in this volume). It is easy to imagine how tempting a standardized European Learning Space must be for the predominantly US-based education service industries, from all forms of eLearning via direct university subsidiaries to the accreditation, evaluation and testing servives.

The new system is a more or less exact copy of the US university system without any serious foregoing research on which system is more productive, more creative, and more in favour of autonomous critical thinking. In fact, although the traditional German system must appear somewhat chaotic to an outsider, ist productivity was relatively high and German students going to, e.g., US universities found themselves often among the best in their classes. The new system will mostly benefit industry – corporations want low-brow graduates, obedient and easy to train on the job. Industrialists will directly influence university decisions in the new Boards of Governeurs. As the bulk of students is supposed to be confined to bachelor degrees, these programs will mostly consist of lecture courses the content of which is to be obediently reproduced in tight exams. More autonomous forms of self-directed learning like seminars and projects will almost disappear. More students, more lectures, more assignments, more grading means the disolution of the nexus between teaching and research. As universities are seen similar to corporations, the dependence on fund-raising together with ranking and evaluation will enforce a hierarchical system of university management. The new system is being politically imposed from top to bottom. With the forced opening of universities for private enterprise as foreseen in WTO-GATS, the commodification of education will prevail over the principle of public responsibility. Private corporations will tend to subdue any idea of critical intellectual autonomy and replace it by fully commodified education in the interest of pure market demands.

Ironically, it was reserved to a federal minister for education and science from the social democratic party to announce, in early 2004, the government’s plan to select, in a competitive process, five to six “élite universities”. These shall then receive additional funding from the federal budget of some 300 mio €. It is not difficult to foresee the consequences: Public and even more private funding will go to the inner circle of “élite” schools while the rest will not only lose resources but also intellectual standing and attraction. The non-élite university will be transformed into a professional college. Education statistics will reveal higher proportions of university graduates but they will not show the lowering of intellectual standards.




  1. Diagnosis: Cynical Science

These few and unsystematical observations have something in common. What comes out of this diagnosis? The criticism of western science can be summarized in six arguments:




  1. Science has become more or less identical with technology; there is little Orientierungswissen (knowledge for orientation) but overwhelmingly Verwertungswissen (knowledge for profit making).

All scientific endeavor has its beginning and its end in society. Every theme which is considered worthy of scientific reflection becomes such only in a process of social perception and negotiation. Every problem must go through social definition before it becomes accessible to science. Science, therefore, must not be allowed to ignore its social responsibility. Society needs science, though not any science serving whatever particular interest but rather one accepting responsibility for the whole of society which, to be sure, is the global society. Science must not be allowed to ignore responsibility for the common good. The claim of many mainstream scientists to separate logic from morals is ideological. Ethics and science ought not to go apart.




  1. Most technology is in the long run destructive and blind against risks

It starts with the heavy weight, and gigantic “success”, of armament research: Every human being on planet Earth can be killed thirty times within only hours, and we have some four tons of explosives per capita in our (mostly western) arsenals. The basic reason for the global ecological crisis is the increasing natural resource throughput of material and energy in the Western countries induced by science and technology since the industrial revolution (Fischer-Kowalski et al. 1997). In fossil fuels alone we consume a quantity per year which is roughly equivalent to what nature has produced in one million years. At present nature needs something like 1.3 years to produce what humanity consumes in natural resources in every single year (WWF 2000). Nuclear power does not only lay uncalculable risks on the shoulders of hundreds of future generations, it is the most expensive and most inefficient form of transforming primary energies into electricity. There is no serious risk assessment of genetically manipulated organisms on the side of the big corporations nor on the side of the state; the few who engage in this research are being hindered and discriminated against. The plundering of raw materials, the risks and wastes signify that we are about to purchase short-term use for present generations for long-term destruction for all future generations (which is the exact opposite of sustainable development). The biochemical analysis of love is being put forward in order to develop and sell new pharmaceuticals - the tablet at the right moment will destroy the essence of what we find so wonderful and so essentially human about falling in love.




  1. Science produces knowledge only for those in power

At least with industrialization, the essential purpose of science has become the mastery of nature by means of technology. There is no a priori decision on what from the wide range of scientific research will finally result in technology, but this decision is made according to the profit interests of those who have technologies developed and used for their own purposes. Research is passed through a series of filters selecting what is profitable and sorting out what is not. Science and technology are both at the same time, instruments for mastering nature and instruments for mastering humans. They transform humans, but their character as instruments of power is veiled by the impression that technology determines objectively the conditions of social organization in a way that the personal power behind it is no longer detectable.

In consequence of the destruction of subsistence economies - resulting from industrialization, the separation of humans from the means of production, increasing commodification, the separation of home and work - humans have arrived in dependency and the permanent need to sell their labor power. The fundamental principle of social organization changed from solidarity to competition with all other human beings. Scientists are eager to provide the necessary ideology by maintaining that the evolution of all natural systems be governed by competition and the survival of the fittest. Not only is this not so much an insight gained by rigorous research but rather a guiding principle, a preformulated frame of reference imposed on empirical findings while ignoring opposing interpretations: Why not re-interpret evolution in terms of solidarity and cooperation? It also sweeps aside the basic essence of what is human. Humans have knowingly and willingly escaped from the chains of natural determination and substituted for them civilization and culture.

Decisions on scientific research are made in very few economic and political institutions following criteria of their respective usefulness for themselves. It must be profitable, either in terms of money or in terms of votes. Certainly, there are also universities, or the self-governance of science. However, universities are forced, under rigid austerity measures, to raise additional funds from private sources. Fund-raising has even come to be considered proof of quality - which in the end means the subjugation of science under the interests of private industry. The last seeming refuge of value free research, the foundations, by far privilege research leading to technological use. Most of these technologies either create new needs or they help to “rationalize” production, i.e. they destroy employment.


  1. Science does not empower but deprives humans of the possibility to decide on their own future

Increasingly, science impels society and deprives it of democracy and human rights. There is, e.g., no democratic dialogue on how much genetic research we want for our society, if at all. Decades ago there still was a slight possibility, as can be demonstrated by, e.g., the (negative) public vote on nuclear energy in Austria. A public vote on genetically manipulated organisms (GMOs) would immediately be suppressed today by pointing to global competition in research to which Europe has to keep up. Globalization is blamed to make it more and more difficult to organize democratic processes. Proponents of GMOs primarily make the points that more and better food could be produced and diseases healed. However, the Director General of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland (2001), cannot see anything useful in GMOs. If hunger on earth is rather a problem of distribution instead of production which easily can be demonstrated, then the problem will not be solved by higher-yield crops.


  1. Science often veils more of reality than it elucidates

In the social sciences, and especially in their positivist mainstream, science tends to veil more of reality than it elucidates. This is relatively easy to demonstrate in neo-liberal economic theory. But this did not prevent the political enforcement of this approach against all alternatives and the enormous damage it has caused for humans and for nature. It might be not equally easy to make this point with respect to the empirical social sciences. A few randomly chosen examples may suffice to illustrate the point:



  • A key variable for the understanding of every society, crucial for informed democratic participation, is the distribution of power. Although we do not lack in definitions or methods to measure power and power differences, the issue is close to non-existent in research.

  • An important variable for understanding social inequality is income distribution. Although we live in statistically overdeveloped and over bureaucratized societies, income statistics are insufficient, even false. In international comparisons of income distribution, the tables published, e.g., by the World Bank in its annual World Development Report are very prominent. But this is little more than tea-leaf reading. Monetary and real income are two totally different things and have totally different weight in different societies. Nonetheless those numbers are used for research and enjoy the authority of the World Bank.

  • Representative surveys are a very prominent instrument of social research. For reasons of cost efficiency they are mostly conducted in standardized form. The respondent can answer a question by ticking a box the scientist has provided. He or she must adapt to the categories which the scientist considers as relevant - a scientist who very often has not the slightest idea of the real life situation of the people in his or her sample. This becomes adventurous in the case of international surveys.

  • From the 1960s on, the broad field of the social sciences has undergone the quantitative revolution. Statistical analyses have increasingly replaced substantial arguments. Much less attention is given to data quality than to the sophistication of statistical algorithms. A typical example: In a very popular series of German social indicators (Statistisches Bundesamt, WZB, ZUMA) unemployment statistics are being reported which are generated by the Federal Agency for Work. Although it has often been critized that these numbers underestimate real unemployment by something like fifty per cent, they are published uncommented (like figures in the Statistical Yearbook) and are taken as valid descriptions of reality by many researchers.




  • But there is another problem to quantification: If we describe social reality in statistical numbers, we only retain those parts of information which lend themselves to easy quantification - thoughtless whether or not, and to what degree, the relevant part of the information may be lost because it is not, or not as easily, quantifiable. Think of mathematical simulation models: It is not only close to impossible to solve the problem of complexity - it may well be that exactly the very information which is crucial for the understanding of the phenomenon to be explained cannot be included because it is not easily quantifiable. What does not prevent researchers from advertising such models as decision-making devices. What happens in the repeated tautological transformation of data in statistical analysis (anyone who has ever hand-calculated a factor analysis knows what I am talking about)? What is the representation in real terms when I square the value of a variable and add it to the squared value of another one?

If science tends to degenerate into a procedure to veil reality, it may be because the last proof of truth is seen in mathematics, or statistical tests. Everything must be formulated in a way digestible by mathematical transformation. “I am speaking of the operationalism which reduces reality to the reality accessible to the methods of science, and then reconstructs the ‘whole’ reality - of nature, persons, or cultures - by extrapolating from that operational reality” (Nandy 1987: 116). An intelligence quotient is no longer seen as an insufficient approximation to a phenomenon; rather, intelligence becomes what is measured by an IQ.
(6) The manipulation of our brains

Despite these and some other problems, scientists do succeed in keeping up the self-image of science in public. Science has been extraordinarily successful to portray itself as value free, neutral, altruistic and exclusively bound to the understanding of truth - and by this to ascertain its privileges. Scientists would unconditionally obey those who control the access to such privileges. This does not exclude that scientists themselves believe in the self-image of science; it is prerequisite for them to see themselves in this light. We all follow a double and often contradicting logic: On the one hand we carry this altruistic image of objectivity, of the common good; on the other hand we use this image to egoistically justify and possibly increase our share in money, reputation, or power. As common as it might be, it is rarely openly acknowledged.

To a large extent science is used to manipulate our brains. This is not only the case in advertising but increasingly in the manipulation of public opinion, or “strategic communication” as it is euphemistically called, as well as in “crimini di pace” (crimes of pacification) where dissenting individuals are forced back into conformism (Basaglia et al. 1980). Of course, science maintains and increases its own influence. Desires are artificially created, behavior designed, loyalty produced, or deseases invented by the pharmaceutical industry. The consent of the American population to the Gulf war of 1990-91 was deliberately produced by scientific methods (Carlisle 1993).

5. The Globalization of Cynicism
The aggressive culture of the West has deep historical roots. The separation of humans from nature, of soul from body, the struggle for survival in a hostile environment, the forceful subjugation of nature are prominent themes in the Old Testament (Nandy 1987: 25, Galtung 1988: 15). Nature is principally hostile, and Adam is forced to kill animals and plants for his own survival. “Chaotic” nature became gradually exterminated and replaced by orderly cultivated fields and gardens. Within only a few centuries Europeans (and after their arrival in the New World, white Americans) managed to eradicate and transform everything which would not obey to their Christian desire for control. Until today the fiction of an principally endless nature with its usable resources belongs to the dominant myths of western societies - despite better knowledge. “A similarly hostile attitude was mandated against other gods and the sacred notions of other cultures; they were to be seen as adversaries to the true god, and destroyed” (Sardar et al. 1993: 26).

The idea of other humans and societies being inferior to one’s own dates back to Greek antiquity: Who could not speak Greek was Barbarian. “To say that some people could not speak Greek was to imply that they had no faculty of reason and could not act according to logic; that their intellect was poorly developed and unable to control their passions; and that while they could apprehend reason they could not have possession of true reason” (ibid.: 26). This attitude was later drastically expressed by attributing all sorts of monstrosities to the Other, the unknown, the “Indian” (a term used for all unknowns), first of all cannibalism. This description did not change over a long time irrespective of the fact that real contacts with others became more frequent and intense. Thus, an image emerged over the centuries which separated the civilized self from the wild, barbarian and incalculable Other. This image extends throughout Christianity well into the European middle ages. “It is hard not to see this potent image of the naked, hairy, club-wielding brute as a projection of all that European civility tried to distance from itself” (ibid.: 35). Until today this inferior Other is being provoked when wartime propaganda portrayed the enemy as “gooks” (the American expression for Vietnamese in the Vietnam war - gooks are something easier to be killed than humans).

Both, nature as well as other cultures appeared to the Europeans as hostile and inferior at the same time. The stereotype takes two forms: one of the wild, untamable cannibal (todays’ Islamophobic propaganda), or the one of the naive child in need of guidance and education (much of todays’ development aid). The basic pattern of reaction is the same in both cases: the inferior is either brought to servility, or exterminated. “The wild man had therefore to be either civilized or sacrificed to civilization” (ibid.: 35). This pattern persists until today. Other systems of knowledge, too, are seen as inferior and suffer the same fate. Even institutions which tend to be quite sensitive to this problems like, e.g., UNESCO, are not free from offering scientific “development aid” to non-Western countries.

In citing Ali Shari’ati, Abbas Manoochehri (in this volume) argues that the western colonizers not necessarily negated the culture and the history of the colonized but rather tried to convince the colonized that he is negative, inferior, unable to think. At the same time, by divide et impera, the comprador bourgeoisie was transformed into a mere caricature of the western élite, and cut off its own cultural roots.

But science is also directly used for the domination and control of developing countries, as Johan Galtung has shown in his analysis of Project Camelot (1967) and his generalizing conclusions (1970-71). This biggest social science project ever funded was supposed to investigate how US-friendly governments in Latin America could be supported against insurgency (the funding institution was the Pentagon). Social scientists of highest reputation where involved in the project. It was discontinued in 1965 only after it became public and raised opposition, and after Latin American social scientists refused to cooperate.

The aggressive character of western knowledge systems is revealed by the evidence that there are other knowledge systems often called local, or traditional, or indigeneous (Galtung, e.g., compares Christian and Buddhist epistemologies, 1988: 15; see also the contributions to International Social Science Journal vol 173, 2003). Everwhere on earth have people accumulated knowledge suitable for their ecological habitat and historical experience. Usually such knowledge is tied to a certain place, or culture, or society, it is dynamic and changes, it belongs to social groups living in close contact with nature and is different from “modern”, “western” or “scienific” knowledge. “It might include spiritual relations, relations with nature, the use of natural resources, relations between humans and is reflected in language, social organization, value systems, institutions and in law. It might comprise sacred texts, is often only orally transmitted and lives in legends and stories. Therefore it is difficult to access for an outsider, and vulnerable” (Studley 1998: 5).

While it is not neutral, or value-free, western science and technology succeeds in making most people believe in its objectivity. This does not only endanger other knowledge systems but also excludes any alternative within western thinking itself. Scientifically understood and mastered, nature re-emerges again in the apparatus of technical production and destruction which maintains individual life and, at the same time, subjects it to the masters of the apparatus. Thus, rational and social hierarchies confound. If this is so, a change in the direction of progress able to dissolve this fatal bond must impact on the very structure of science - the design of science. Without loosing its rational character, its hypotheses would develop in an essentially different context of experience (one of a pacified world); science would arrive at a very different conception of nature and would arrive at essentially different facts (Marcuse 1964: 181).

Within the large and comprehensive context of cultural imperialism we can find a number of mechanisms aimed at the global imposition of western conceptions of science and truth, and at generalizing its harmful effects. From the “green revolution” to Monsanto’s “terminator technology”, scientific progress has always been used to destroy local subsistence economies and to force people under the dictate of the global economy, of commercialization, of monetarization and of market rule. Structural adjustment with its rabid demand for opening up national markets appears as one of the major instruments of this strategy, putting national economies under tutelage. Both have led to the cleavage between the small number of rich (which, in their attitudes and lifestyles follow the western model and which deposit their money in western banks) and the overwhelming majority of poor people in the second and third worlds. There is a fatal paradox to it: Exactly those who are supposed to demand and consume the overproduction of western automatized factories are being deprived of the means to do so, while the tiny caste of oligarchs does not invest its richesse (except to secure their own influence in the media, in commodities or in corruption), but engages in speculation. When you can make money with money, human beings become superfluous even as consumers.

Intentionally or not, development aid, international organizations, education, advertising, university partnerships, computerization, access to the internet, recognition of university degrees, fellowships, visiting professorships, internships: they all serve, recognizable or not, the same purpose: the global imposition of western concepts of science and truth. This does not only colonize the second and third worlds, it also colonizes the traditional and dissident sectors in our own society. Here, too, we can find large “traditional” sectors of the population far away from all the noise about the knowledge and information societies, for which the stock exchange is meaningless and who don’t care about growth or maximizing individual material benefits, or unlimited mobility.

The global imposition of western concepts of science and truth is only one little stone in the big mosaic of cultural imperialism. Control of the news market is as important as the new role of public relations, popular music as relevant as comics and junk food, films and soap operas belong to it as well as global-style architecture, structural adjustment policies and the “war on terror”, science and technology, englishification of language and the americanization of universities. Taken all that together, we are on the way to generalize our model of social organization forcively throughout the globe.

One might argue that it is neither science nor truth which are so destructive per se, but rather their misuse by the polity and the economy. I doubt it; the story goes much deeper historically and it has indeed inflicted our very understanding of science in a long process. Opponents are rare, and reversal seems unlikely. There is a correlation between the progress in science on the one hand, the aggravation of the Global Problématique on the other. To be sure, correlation does not necessarily mean causality, but it makes one think. There is only a small little detail those propagandists have forgotten: That this best of all possible worlds, western capitalism with its unsatiable hunger for consumption and growth, is well on the road to destroying the biological life support system of all human beings.

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1 as “élite” carries with it a connotation of moral superiority, I prefer the less common term of “cadres” for the powerful groups in society

2 made available to me by Sheldon Gunaratne





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