About

Author: VM

Interests: Physics (esp. high-energy and condensed matter physics), science + society + politics, history of science, Tamil cinema, science fiction & fantasy

Location: Bengaluru, Chennai, New Delhi

Profession: Science writer and editor, The Wire Science

Previous employers: The Hindu, Scroll.in, Brainwave Magazine (defunct)

Bylines: The Hindu, Scroll.in, Hindustan Times, Quartz, Physics World, Wissenschaft im Dialog, The Wire, The Wire Science

Twitter: @1amnerd

Email: On The Wire Science site


What is rational technics? On January 21, 1963, the American philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford delivered a speech in New York city entitled ‘Authoritarian and Democratic Technics’. Shortly after the start, Mumford says in the speech:

My thesis, to put it bluntly, is that from late neolithic times in the Near East, right down to our own day, two technologies have recurrently existed side by side: one authoritarian, the other democratic, the first system-centered, immensely powerful, but inherently unstable, the other man-centered, relatively weak, but resourceful and durable. If I am right, we are now rapidly approaching a point at which, unless we radically alter our present course, our surviving democratic technics will be completely suppressed or supplanted, so that every residual autonomy will be wiped out, or will be permitted only as a playful device of government, like national ballotting for already chosen leaders in totalitarian countries.

In the same vein, ‘rational technics’ I thought was a good way to describe the intended outcome of my process of interrogating the world’s events and its peoples’ beliefs. I studied engineering and have been a science journalist for almost a decade. I have also read more than my fair share about the history and philosophy of science, have written on these topics, as well as on particle physics, condensed matter physics, climate change, conservation, public health, drug policy, scientific publishing, academic misconduct, knowledge access, pseudoscience and issues of science and society. I think I understand science, and I also think that most people have trouble seeing beyond its uppermost layer – of discoveries and inventions that (supposedly) serve society, of the sophistication and the oft-self-proclaimed inaccessibility. Science is much more than that, and definitely more complicated.

By taking a closer look at the outcomes of scientific work and the ways in which they interact with the rest of society, I wish to expose the rational technics – the system of rules and technologies by which rationalism and scientism impose themselves, and the ways in which these impositions are flawed (they’re always less than objective), if not pernicious.