The Objective Absurdity of Decolonizing Science

In a recent video that has been shared on various social media platforms, a number of University of Cape Town students and staff members are seen to engage in what may at first seem is, wishfully, satire. Unfortunately, within a number of seconds, one realizes that...

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In a recent video that has been shared on various social media platforms, a number of University of Cape Town students and staff members are seen to engage in what may at first seem is, wishfully, satire. Unfortunately, within a number of seconds, one realizes that the vitriol is, in fact, said dead seriously and straight-faced.

Without touching on the situation regarding our South African campuses and the merits, or lack thereof, of the #FeesMustFall movement, one feels obliged to respond to the ludicrous suggestions that are made in the above-mentioned video. The video starts with a young student stating that she expected to be confronted with the question of how she believes science should be ‘decolonized’. Thereafter follows an attempt to argue for such ‘decolonization’. The fallist student anecdotally substantiates her stance by rhetorically asking how witchcraft in KwaZulu-Natal could be explained. Unfortunately, the talks about shooting lightning from your fingers was not a Star Wars reference.

To say that science is wholly the product of Western modernity is not only a blatant lie, but it gravely neglects to give recognition to the scientific contributions that have been made by other civilizations throughout the world and throughout history. By asking for science to be ‘reset’, the student inadvertently admits that science is objectively measured. She is merely asking for science to be viewed with an African lens. What this lens is supposed to see remains unclear, much like how the world would be without subscribing to the scientific method of systematic observation, measurement, and testing.

“Science is true, because it is science,” to directly quote the ignorant student. This statement, in itself, is illogical; not that that would be easy to explain to this dear fellow South African student. Science does not assert that it is true. Science aims to model the world to the extent that we can make predictions and measured results which will match those predictions. That’s all science can do. If you defined “accurate predictions” as truth, then science is true.

The problem with asking for the ‘decolonization’ of science and the academia, in general, is simply that an apple falling from a tree remains a falling apple regardless of which perspective it is viewed from. Perhaps if it were a racist apple we would be having a different conversation, which some might try to argue that it is. How it is explained that this apple is falling remains objectively the same. The type of fruit that is falling and from where it is falling is open for interpretation. Few would argue against the various yet similar viable explanations for gravity (for example), but the Newtonian version no doubt was more readily able to be read, spoken about, and shared. No person would argue that Newton and Newton alone knew and understood gravity. This remains the whole point of objective science. A theory is merely the most likely scenario given known facts, until a new and better proven and measured theory replaces it.

The practical suggestions that are made in the video to ‘decolonize’ the sciences include doing away with science entirely, and starting from scratch. The different science that she hopes to achieve by ‘decolonizing’, remains unclear. There exist no perspectives on science. Science does not have context. The application of science, on the other hand, has various uses and various different avenues in which it can take place.

Lastly, and quite possibly the most important point of rebuttal, is that the notion of a homogeneous Europe is erroneous and ahistorical. Europe existed as a fractured and vast area of various cultures and societies that had the tendency to make war with each other. Greek mathematics and late German physics assimilated into what the student calls “Western education”. This, by itself, points to cross-cultural integration and further building upon established knowledge.

On a personal note, this video is, at a certain level, extremely frightening. The continued disregard of objective truths by many leftish commentators remains one of the biggest threats to our society. The only ray of light that remains is summed up in a frequently used quote by American author and orator Ben Shapiro: “Facts do not care about your feelings”. And, might I add, facts do not care about context or personal experiences.

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  1. Malinda Nel Reply

    Thank you, Daniel. I agree: totally disturbing. A mindset that I just cannot understand.

  2. Josephus Jones Reply

    The gentleman who called BS on her lighting comment was set upon almost immediately and forced to apologise. Interrupting speakers at a debate is one thing, but the way it was handled was rather chilling.

    1. Wogan Reply

      I’m 50/50 on this one. On the one hand, yes – the idea being discussed is so ludicrously backward that it shouldn’t have made it into UCT in the first place.

      On the other hand, being weak on enforcing the rules of engagement is what leads to completely unproductive discussions. Parliament is a mess because we have weak and selective speakers. In this case, I’m glad the moderator took the rules so seriously – I’m just disappointed that they were used in the defense of such a stupid notion.

  3. Wogan Reply

    This is legitimately terrifying. Right now, with an education system already on the verge of collapse, we’ve now got students importing left-wing safe-space culture into what’s supposed to be an institution of higher learning.

  4. Harald Sitta Reply

    The interesting think is that often students say or do the weirdest things. Much weirder than a simple simpleton. I refer to 68ers, Tupamaros, students in the Chinese cultural revolution, Marxists and Narodniki in Tsarists Russia, Nazi students, the students whop became the Khmer rouge. Nihilistic Matric lumpen proletariat they are. Half baked intellectuals from half funny schools with a half done matric. Cultist behavior is then added. Group thinking, slogans, jargon, phrases replace rational discourse. Then the madness spreads to the whole of society.

  5. Patrick Reply

    Science is a method to gain understanding not a set of believes. And consequently “science” is not true because it is science, but because it is the set of all theories that have withstood the attempts of all scientists who tried to make a name for them selves by proofing on such theory wrong. Which incidentally has happened for Newtons theory of Gravity.

    PS: As a physicist I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that the author of this fine article was not from natural sciences. It’s is (unfortunately) rare to see such a understanding for the fundamental philosophy of science in the humanities. And people like me and me colleagues often lack the rhetorical skills that are required to defend science against the illiterate mob.

  6. Logan Young Reply

    When I saw this video and when I think about the Fallists doing all of this, I’m assuming, because they can’t achieve a 30% pass mark, I wonder if I would be able to. I’m sure that if I were given the opportunity to attend all lectures and nothing else, I could probably score at least 30%…

  7. Ouroboros Reply

    “Science, as a whole, is a product of western modernity.” This inversion of the relationship between science and modernity may be the most important point of departure from reason in her argument. To not acknowledge that modernity is the product of applied knowledge gained through scientific inquiry into the natural world is even problematic to the Marxist underpinnings of her argument for “decolonization.”

  8. Mr E Reply

    Didja notice how she checked her smartphone the second she was done speaking? Very telling.

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