Western science is framed as being devoid of cultural values and is, in fact, perceived as “naked.” Anthropologist Laura Nader writes that naked science is “stripped of its ideologized vestments” and I argue that Western science is fully loaded–ideologically, politically and morally.
Yet, when we engage in discussions about science, especially in news reports, science is held aloft from cultural influences. In the case of environmental and health conflicts in Indian Country, scientists are portrayed as the arbiters of truth, and Native Americans become the challengers of truth, thus mirroring the tropes of old: the savage, illiterate, uncivilized denizen shackled and subdued by the greater authority.
When Indians are framed as “anti-science,” some anthropologists jump to their defense, arguing that native science should be accorded equal status with Western science. In his book on Zapotec science, Roberto Gonzales refers to indigenous knowledge as “local science” and Western knowledge as “cosmopolitan science.” Yet, even this thoughtful attempt to reframe indigenous ways-of-knowing separates Big Science from little science.
Instead I recommend a reimagining of the construct “science”: we need to own up to the cultural values that saturate all science. Indeed, the strength and power of native science is the acknowledgement of the welding of values to knowledge systems, where science is just another knowledge system. Rather than taking the reductionist approach noted at the start of our conversation, and rather than pretending that science is naked, we should welcome a vision of science as part of an interconnected system of dependent elements that emerge side by side–that are complementary and inseparable.
Indigenous knowledges are informed by such interconnections: earth and air; humor and language; birth and burial. “Our ancestors were very sensitive in their relationships with the land. They systematically organized experiential information about cycles, seasons, connections, and strategies in their cultures. Experience was evolved into knowledge, and knowledge was evolved into wisdom,” notes Jhon Goes in Center in the book Science and Native American Communities.
When we think of science, we should therefore honor the intersection of knowledges and experiences rather than treat them separately.