A video of a #FeesMustFall meeting where student leaders discussed the decolonisation of universities sparked debates online.
A student leader said “science as a whole is a product of Western modernity, and the whole thing should be scratched off”.
She said “we have to restart science from an African perspective, from our perspective, of how we experienced science”.
She went on to describe how people in KwaZulu-Natal believe that black magic can be used to “send lightning” to strike someone. “Can you explain that science?” she asked.
#ScienceMustFall was the top trending topic on Twitter on Friday, with people ridiculing the statements made by the student leader.
“The sane among us need to get off this planet ASAP before gravity is decolonised by the #sciencemustfall zealots,” said Twitter user BabaBlackSheep.
Here’s why the student’s statements are not of value in an academic environment.
What is science?
Science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”.
Below are the #ScienceMustFall statements, and why there are complete nonsense.
Science as a whole is a product of Western modernity.
One of the most powerful aspects of science is that it is culture agnostic. Scientists from across the world collaborate on scientific research and projects, because mathematics, physics, and other scientific fields are the same in every country around the world.
Science has its roots in various countries and cultures across the world, including Africa. This includes the Greek philosopher Aristotle who developed the scientific method, creating The House of Wisdom in Iraq, and Ibn al-Haytham’s work in Cairo on optics, astronomy, and mathematics.
We have to restart science from an African perspective.
Science is built on previous knowledge, and removes the need to restart from scratch. Current scientific achievements, like computers, artificial intelligence, and modern cars, are thanks to hundreds of years of progress by scientists.
In fact, one of the dumbest things you can do in science is to restart investigations of things which have been proven.
There is a place in KZN where they believe that through black magic, or witchcraft, you can send lightning to strike someone. Can you explain that scientifically?
Yes, we can. If someone claims they can control lightning, scientists can set up an experiment and observe the results. To date, there is no proof that a person can control lightning.
Western knowledge is totalising. It is saying that Newton, and only Newton, knew or saw an Apple falling and then out of nowhere decided that gravity existed, and created an equation, and that is it. The only way to explain gravity is through Newton.
Gravity is not a Western invention by Newton. Some of the earliest descriptions of the force of gravity came from early mathematician-astronomers, such as the Indian mathematician-astronomer Aryabhata.
Newton also did not “out of nowhere decided that gravity existed” – that is not how science works. The Independent explained how “Newton was obsessed by the orbit of the Moon around the Earth, and eventually reasoned that the influence of gravity must extend over vast distances”. After seeing how apples always fall straight to the ground, he spent several years working on the mathematics explaining the force of gravity.
It is also not the only way to explain gravity. In fact, gravity is currently most-accurately described by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Today, the scientific quest to fully understand gravity continues, with scientists trying to develop a more complete theory of quantum gravity.