Statement by SLAAS on Arsenic studies

By Nalin de Silva

I have to detour and my reply to Professors Carlo Fonseka, Oliver Ileperuma and Upali Samarajeewa has to be postponed as the so-called representative body of western scientists in this country headed by Prof. Dhammika Tantirigoda has taken an unprecedented step by issuing a public statement against its own members. Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) has come out with a statement on Arsenic. Their primary concern appears to be the advancement of western science, safeguarding its credibility and they question the so-called methods adopted by the University of Kelaniya group working on Rajarata Chronic Kidney Disease. They emphasize the importance of ‘peer reviewing’ usually by two referees who are supposed to be experts in the field. However, in a paper on experimental science it is very unlikely that the reviewers repeat the experiments and most probably they go through the procedure adopted by the authour of the paper sitting at their desks without going to the laboratory. As Prof. Upali Samarajeewa the ‘world renowned food scientist’, who claimed that families died of eating manioc in early seventies, at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, has inadvertently admitted in an article written to The Island even this method is not fool-proof. He cites an example where another brilliant scientist from Sri Lanka who published a paper in ‘Nature’, of all the journals, had to withdraw the paper after it was pointed out by others, but not the peer reviewers, that the results therein were not correct. It is clear that the peer reviewers did not get it right. This implies that the results are tested by other ‘scientists’ and it is reasonable to assume that whether the work is published in an ‘internationally recognized journal’ after peer reviewing or not the fellow scientists could replicate the experiments provided of course that the method(s) adopted is/are in the public domain. Thus, it is clear that it is not the publication in so-called research journals that is important but announcing the results anywhere so that the contents are available to the others whether they are ‘scientists’ or not. It is not just two peers who should decide the fate of a publication, but others, yes including the general public. The public domain need not be in the form of scientific journals and the authours should have the liberty of publishing their findings even in the newspapers. Of course, in publishing them in a newspaper the authour forfeits his right for points allocated for promotions for the particular ‘paper’ but then those in the universities who are not bothered of becoming professors through UGC circulars would not mind it.

We have on a number of occasions said that our group at Kelaniya did not publish our results in a so-called peer reviewed journal due to our concern regarding the authorship of the paper as the original idea was given by ‘samyak drshtika devivaru’. We are now almost assured after the statement by the SLAAS that no ‘serious scientist’ to whom the paper is sent for reviewing would not approve its publication in a ‘serious’ journal as the umbrella organization of the scientists in Sri Lanka has demanded that members of our group should distance themselves from my ‘eccentric statements’ if they are to be considered serious scientists. Just consider the following quotations from the statement by the SLAAS.

"There is another serious issue which casts grave doubts on the credibility of the claims made by the Kelaniya group. The Press has publicly identified as the leader of this group an individual, who despite holding a responsible position, professes a disdain for "Western" science. He has publicly claimed supernatural revelations ("samyak drushtika devivaru’) as the source of his group’s information and even methods. While recognising that many scientists are deeply religious, the SLAAS wishes to state categorically that superstition and the supernatural have no place in science, and that scientific results inspired by such sources are highly suspect because of a probable bias on the part of the investigator, it said."

We also note that the other researchers in the group have yet to distance themselves from the eccentric statements of their leader, and they need to do this if they wish to be taken seriously as scientists. Finally, the SLAAS considers it extremely unfortunate that the Dean of a Science Faculty should make it his publicly stated aim to run down science and bring it into disrepute."

I have to remind the office bearers of the SLAAS that I still have my life membership of the SLAAS, though I do not take part in any of its activities. I must also state that I consider western science only as a system of knowledge created in the west by the westerners for themselves. However, using their political power they have imposed their science on others as well. It is not different from any other system of knowledge and if other systems are myths then so is western science being a system created by human beings. I do not believe that there exists something sacred or otherwise called a scientific method and I have been expressing these views for the last twenty five years or so. In fact about twenty years ago I gave a lecture in the SLAAS auditorium on "Vidyathmaka Borukarayo" while being a member of the council of the SLAAS at that time. I remember another member of the council raising that at a meeting of the council but the then council unlike the present council that has no regard for the views of the others, stood by me and decided that I had the right to express my opinion.

The present council having, all of a sudden, woken from a slumber, perhaps after inhaling Arsenic, is publicly stating that my views are eccentric. I challenge Prof. Tantirigoda or any other member of the council for a debate on western science and the so-called scientific method without trying to dismiss my views out of hand by branding them as eccentric. I have explained how we got the idea of Arsenic from devivaru and even that rationalist, realist and I suppose objectivist Prof. Carlo Fonseka is prepared to accept that the origin of ideas is immaterial in western science. As I have mentioned Kekule first had his idea of the Benzene ring in a dream and that did not prevent the scientists in Europe from accepting the structure of Benzene. Prof. Tantirigoda and his team of western scientists do not seem to have any idea of how ideas are originated and I advise them to get tuition from Prof. Carlo Fonseka on these matters before they think of drafting statements.

I have mentioned so many times that the Kelaniya group has tested the idea of Arsenic in water and other substances using methods in western Chemistry and we have given details of our method at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister. If anybody requests in writing we will gladly give him the method provided that he is in a position to test it. The SLAAS claim that ‘supernatural’ (whatever it means) has no place in science. I would like to know from the members of the council of the SLAAS whether they have any sensory perceptible knowledge of the so-called gravitational force. If so, I may also kindly invite them to divulge the special sense organ that they posses with which they have experienced the gravitational force. People who live in the nineteenth century, even as far as western philosophy of western science is concerned, should think not twice but many times before issuing statements.

The SLAAS wants members of the Kelaniya group to dissociate themselves from my views if they are to be considered serious scientists. I am not a western scientist, let alone a serious western scientist, and I am proud of that fact. I know that western science in particular, and western knowledge in general, are being used by the western colonialism to suppress us. However, if the others in my group want to call themselves western scientists I have no objection to that as I do not attempt to impose my views on them. On the other hand SLAAS, which considers itself an umbrella organization of western scientists, and which I am sure would try to give the impression that it respects alternative views, tries to impose conditions on the fellow members of the SLAAS. Is it according to the attitudes of western science that they threaten members of my group to distance themselves from my views if the latter were to be considered serious scientists?

When the umbrella organization issues such statements, do we expect the members of the SLAAS who would most probably be referees in a paper submitted by our group to approve it as it has been authored by non serious scientists or personnel? SLAAS has in effect said unless the members of our group distance themselves from my views not to publish papers by them at least on Arsenic and related issues. What would happen if the team decides to include my name as an authour who according to the SLAAS has eccentric views? Sometime ago when I advocated that the LTTE should be defeated all the NGO pundits would have considered my views eccentric. I wonder whether any members of the SLAAS council also thought so. I am not worried if my views are called eccentric as my views are not conventional at all with respect to accepted western views blindly followed by many western educated people in Sri Lanka. However, the SLAAS should not in any way cast aspersions on others for not distancing themselves from my views.



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