Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva is an Indian physicist who founded (and currently heads) the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is "an ecofeminist, prolific author (of books and over 300 scientific papers) and environmental activist." This week she spoke at the University of British Columbia on "Defending Food Freedom in a Period of Food Fascism."

Inkling Magazine had a chance to ask Shiva some questions during her visit about her background in quantum physics and her work defending the rights of small farmers. She believe that women bring a unique perspective to science.

I think there are two definitely unique abilities that women bring to science.

First, because they have not been groomed into a clubby behavior, they’re always outsiders no matter how good they are and this means they have not numbed their thinking.

Whenever there’s a clubbiness there are tacit norms, dos and don’ts, that get shaped. Women coming from a freer mind can ask basic questions. That’s why so much interesting stuff is coming out of women’s participation in science.

Second, epistemically we haven’t had centuries of training in reductionism. Even when we are trained in a particular discipline we bring other disciplines to bear. That multidimensionality also enriches science.

Read the whole interview.

UBC geneticist David Ng also had a chance to talk with Shiva (the Inkling interview was in his office), and he posts about their discussion on the World's Fair blog.
We had a lot of opportunity to talk. I was most interested in her views on genetic engineering from a purely scientific tool point of view - whether she objected in principle to the science itself, away from the context of her strong criticisms of the economic parameters in which many GE technologies operate.

Basically, she said that ideally no, she didn't have a problem with the science itself. She is not criticizing science, itself. That as a tool, of course, it can have merit (she was trained as a quantum physicist). But by the same token, at this point in time, the technology especially in the realm of food, doesn't really have the luxury of being viewed without that societal (and in this case, strongly economical) context. This was heartening to hear, and I think a well recieved point (which speaking with Ben earlier, he can concur). It points to the danger of bundling criticisms and firing at individual targets, when often it's the big picture that needs looking at.

Dr. Shiva also had some pointed words on biofuels: a hot topic in this day and age of climate change and alternate sources of energy. She brought up an very interesting facet to this story, that to be honest, I didn't even think of. That is, in the current global system, humanity already seems to have a serious problem with food equity and food security: it therefore stands to reason that this system will only be further strained if what might be viable agricultural land is instead slated for use for biofuel production. I haven't done the homework myself on this point (perhaps others can comment), but that does sound like a pretty rational concern.
Read the whole post.

More about Vandana Shiva: