Opinion Editorial Archive June, 2020: Leading Science

opinion editorial
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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Every day we hear from the mainstream media about the leading science regarding the latest coronavirus to have jumped to humans. We hear mostly about the progress of some clinical trial of a potential drug treatment or of a potential vaccine. There has never been a time when so many of us have paid such close attention to science. The leaders of this science are steeped in the scientific method. We see footage taken in laboratories and many of us now understand what it means to be double-blind. We are learning not only about science but also about leadership; those leading the scientific studies are careful to avoid politics, blame and social media conspiracy theories, as well as to remind us that their research follows established procedures that should not be compromised. Some of our political leaders could learn a lot from these scientists too.

Despite what you may have heard, there are many more clinical trials taking place than the number you're being told.

The lady in this month's photo is an indigenous Bribri shaman from Costa Rica. We would call her a pharmacist. When anyone falls sick in her village, she diagnoses the problem and prescribes something from her pharmacy. I met her when she guided me on a tour of her pharmacy and it was there that she posed for this photo. To us, the background looks nothing like a pharmacy, but it was in this forest behind her house that she spent over an hour telling me how each plant is turned into medicine and the condition that the medicine treats.

Indigenous people are no strangers to sickness and disease; they have been dealing with them for tens of thousands of years. They do not wear lab coats. They do not recruit volunteers for clinical trials. They do not publish their findings in the Rainforest Journal of Indigenous Medicine (there is no such publication). Yet they have encyclopedic knowledge of natural treatments and cures.

It should surprise no one that due to lack of national political leadership, Brazil emerged as the new coronavirus epicenter last month. Amazonas State, in particular, has been badly impacted. That state is home to many indigenous people. So it should surprise no one that, last month, they began reporting that they'd had some success treating coronavirus symptoms using traditional medicine. Similarly, in Africa, crowdfunding is being used to raise funds to investigate the effectiveness of the artemisia plant. These are the clinical trials not included in the official numbers. Mainstream media predictably perpetuates the Eurocentric, elitist view that indigenous people cannot better white superiority.

The relationship between knowledge and science is complex. We oversimplify that relationship when we believe that science produces knowledge. Indigenous people know that science is a subset of knowledge. There is at least an equal chance that the clinical trials by indigenous people will defeat coronavirus before ours. Who, then, leads the science that will still be needed in the post-coronavirus world?

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