Impoverishing science by its association with divisive social issues

Instead of insuring them against the vagaries of the seasons, the latest offering from the Ministry of Agriculture is a suggestion that farmers think their seeds into producing more. Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said on September 15 that the government was going to put its weight behind ‘Yogic farming’. “The idea behind Yogic farming is to empower the seeds with the help of positive thinking. We should enhance the potency of seeds by rays of parmatma shakti,Indian Express quoted Singh as saying.

With that, the minister gives himself – as well as his cohort of administrators – a powerful excuse to hide behind when things go wrong: unfalsifiability (which defies testability). If Singh had said farmers ought to acquaint themselves with Yogic farming in order to make themselves feel better, it would’ve been different, and quite in line with the invasive ways in which the government wants to participate in personal self-help. However, in choosing to intervene with an instrument of human welfare, Singh and his ministry have crossed a line, and that in itself is an oddity.

Consider GMO regulation in the country and how it’s at odds with environmental regulations: there is not enough of the socio-political in the processes of the former and too much administrative interference in the latter, especially thanks torepeated subversions of technical expertise of late. Matters on which there is a semblance of scientific consensus are challenged with redundant consultative processes to deplete the science and replace it with public confusion. On the other hand, pseudoscience is used to distract from matters in which public participation is heaving but on which no administrative consensus exists. As a result science, and pseudoscience for its sake, is increasingly becoming associated with divisive social issues (either by its presence out of context or enforced absence).

And on a separate note, Singh’s uttering such a comment isn’t entirely surprising, either. Didn’t he say in July 2015 that 1,400 farmers had died not because of debt or crop failures but because of impotency and love failures?