Then comes the biggie, research must promote human development. I support this assertion, albeit not whole-heartedly. After all, research is public-funded. It is also foolish to imagine a utopia where the vast majority of humankind is scientific-minded and takes pleasure in funding and finding new stuff. Such a society did not exist during Galileo's age, and despite the phenomenal advances made in terms of human knowledge, such a society still has few takers today. So yes, research needs to be or atleast sound relevant to human development. However, what is the much touted 'development' mantra? The current Indian government seems to confuse it with GDP. Is industry an adequate measure of growth? I believe we need to re-examine development through a social and environmental lens. Would eradication of poverty be development? We don’t have an adequate definition for poverty. Obviously, a person's daily wage is a rather constricted measure of poverty. A tribal living off the forest in a secluded region of Orissa may be termed 'poor' using conventional terms, but is he really poor? Likewise, an inhabitant of an urban slum could earn enough to live comfortably in a village, but his dependence on the city of his dreams and livelihood forces him to live in perceived squalor.
Maybe hunger is a stronger determinant of poverty than money. How do you quantify hunger? Or unhappiness? Or discrimination. Discrimination might even be an inherent part of primate societies. Take gorillas for example. A male silverback controls and provides for his harem of 3-6 females and their children. His first 'wife' is the dominant member and wields greater influence than the second wields, his second wife is more powerful than the third and so on. Could this mean that societal structure seems to have an inherent provision for discrimination? Does it imply we accept caste, race, religion, sex-based injustice? Of course not. In another example, patrolling chimpanzees kill neighboring chimp troops in an effort to gain access to additional resources and reduce competition. Such behavior reflects human motivation for war. We need to be aware that competition (which may manifest itself as discrimination) will find a way to creep into society. Perhaps, we should address the root cause at a more biological level than we currently acknowledge. Wild primate societies can provide vital clues about human behavior. While we cannot prevent war, we can perhaps interpret the adrenaline rush and the urge to dominate that precedes a road rage fistfight and avoid cooling our heels in prison for a night.
Okay, primates are our ancestors and their behavior helps us understand ourselves better. Fine, but what about all those tiny disgusting critters that creep and crawl their way into our nightmares? Slithery geckos on the wall give us the shivers, maybe because that’s how we see our parents react to the animal. The gecko's only crime is that it feeds on insects buzzing around tube-lights. Some of these bugs have rather painful bites. Others may prove pestilential for crops. However, insects are also important pollinators- for example, the much-feared wasp is responsible for fertilizing the flowers of the revered peepal tree that is an essential part of every temple compound. So why don’t we simply kill off the pests and let the good guys live? Spray insecticide on the crop. Easy. Let the poison mix with the water and drain into gullies, streams, rivers and cause murder and mayhem amongst any who drink it. Including humans? And ofcourse, the cocktail of chemical in our chapattis and rice do lend a most delicious aroma to the meal. Refine our palate, in Masterchef lingo. Sigh. Well, since indiscriminate pest control isn’t the most viable of options we could perhaps start by looking at the natural history of these so-called pests. Where do they love to live? When do they reproduce? How do their numbers vary according to crop seasons? What animals feed on these insects? Do they face competition from other insects? Studying insects is linked more intricately to yours and mine well-being than we realize.