Review of Prabir Purkayastha’s Knowledge as Commons

In a compelling exploration of science and technology’s societal impact, Prabir Purkayastha delves into the crucial interplay between these domains and the role of society in shaping their development. Drawing on his extensive experience as an engineer, social activist, and advocate for people’s science, Purkayastha offers a unique perspective on the intricate relationship between these fields. His book, “Knowledge as Commons: Towards Inclusive Science and Technology,” fills a notable void in the literary landscape by discussing the essence of engineering and technology, a topic rarely broached by practitioners.

Science and Technology Nexus

Purkayastha underscores the symbiotic connection between science and technology, highlighting their distinct yet interconnected objectives. While science aims to unravel the mysteries of nature, technology focuses on practical applications to transform the natural world through innovative artifacts. Technologists bridge the gap between existing knowledge and unexplored realms to materialize groundbreaking advancements. Notably, modern scientific endeavors often necessitate sophisticated tools like the Hadron Collider to delve deeper into nature’s enigmas.

Imperative of Social Engagement

Within the triad of science, technology, and society, Purkayastha emphasizes the indispensability of societal influence on technological pathways. Emphasizing that technological choices are essentially social choices, he advocates for a “people’s science movement” to demystify these decisions. It is imperative to ensure social control over pivotal scientific and technological transitions to safeguard the public interest and prevent potentially catastrophic outcomes. Purkayastha warns against the perils of “runaway technology,” citing nuclear armaments, climate change, and biological weapons as formidable threats that could irrevocably alter the world we inhabit.

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On the flip side, Purkayastha details the emergence of the “commons movement” in science, advocating for the democratization of scientific knowledge production. He confronts the pervasive corporate appropriation of biological and knowledge resources, critiquing the patenting regime’s encroachment on communal assets. This proprietary disposition, extending to genetic resources and life sciences, raises ethical dilemmas and underscores the need to challenge prevailing norms.

Challenges and Ideological Confrontations

Highlighting instances like the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the COVID-19 crisis, Purkayastha underscores the detrimental effects of profit-driven healthcare practices, questioning the moral implications of exclusive drug pricing. He confronts the prevailing ideology that perpetuates the commodification of knowledge and challenges entrenched narratives that hinder equitable access to essential resources.

Purkayastha delves into India’s scientific legacy, debunking misconceptions and celebrating the nation’s contributions to medicine, surgery, and mathematics. He critiques the prevalent misappropriation of scientific achievements, offering a refreshing perspective on India’s profound impact on scientific progress.

Thought-Provoking Insights

Despite his Marxist leanings, Purkayastha’s discourse transcends ideological boundaries, engaging readers with his rational approach to scientific discourse. Through his incisive analysis, he sheds light on the pivotal role of scientific knowledge in propelling economies towards development, contrasting the scientific prowess of nations like the Netherlands with resource-rich counterparts like Saudi Arabia. His reflections on historical influences on Indian science urge introspection and challenge prevailing narratives.

Engage with Purkayastha’s thought-provoking narrative in “Knowledge as Commons: Towards Inclusive Science and Technology,” a seminal work that redefines the contours of scientific inquiry and societal engagement. His impassioned plea for a more equitable and inclusive scientific ecosystem resonates deeply in an era marked by technological advancements and ethical quandaries.

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For more insights, you can explore Prabir Purkayastha’s book “Knowledge as Commons: Towards Inclusive Science and Technology”.