Science, Non-science and Nonsense
By Dr. SARATH GAMINI De SILVA
I congratulate Dr. Upul Wijayawardena for his honest opinion expressed in The Island of 5th March. The following is a further illustration of how the professionals are playing political games to further their own interests, with no concern for the health and well-being of the nation. Over the past few years, we have seen much untruths, hypocrisy and myths being propagated by professionals, misleading the ignorant public, creating social unrest, and even violence.
The campaign conducted blaming the fertilizer glyphosate as a cause of the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown origin in the farming areas, mainly in the North Central province, was one burning issue then. There was no scientific evidence to prove this, despite the efforts of some professors in the medical faculty to find some. However, the importation of the fertilizer was banned mostly due to political expediency. One is not aware of any other country in the world doing so. When a visiting Sri Lankan expatriate doctor claiming to be a researcher in the field was asked, he could name only a small country still contemplating doing so. He was lost for words to answer probing questions on the matter. His research has since been discredited in the USA. How the ban adversely affected productivity in the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka has never been assessed or discussed. Fortunately, the ban has been revoked now, and glyphosate is used freely for tea and coconut cultivation.
How the issue of sterilization of women in Kurunegala without consent, propagated mainly by monks and medical men with no expertise in women’s health, is still fresh in our memory. It caused so much communal disharmony and even violence. The issue has now been conveniently forgotten with no punitive action taken against either the accused doctor, if he was guilty, or against the people who knowingly created all that mayhem, possibly for political gain.
The more recent episode of promoting scientifically unproven native medicine for Covid-19 caused much harm to the pandemic control programme. A quack was allowed to defraud the public, amassing much wealth. It was disappointing to see a professor of pharmacology in allopathic medicine as well as leading politicians including the Minister of Health, and the Speaker of Parliament openly advocating the questionable decoction. An earlier attempt to promote a similar decoction for use in state hospitals was thwarted by objections raised by a professional association. How the public was allowed to ignore the public health guidance to prevent the spread of the disease in attempts to obtain the medicine is deplorable. It was hilarious how even armed forces personnel in uniform were standing in the queue. The matter is now almost forgotten, after the Minister of Health herself fell seriously ill with the disease, despite having taken the offensive medicine, and the quack making it opting to get vaccinated!
As Dr. Wijayawardena has mentioned, having first given publicity and freely advertising the questionable ‘medicine’, now a committee composed of all the professors of medicine in the country, has been appointed to conduct a ‘trial’ to verify its effectiveness! It is known that the way proper trials as done for allopathic medicine may not be performed on native medicines. I do not intend elaborating on this further, except to say that it is a colossal waste of valuable time and money for the busy medical teachers. As usual the matter may be forgotten in the course of time.
The issue of compulsory cremation of deaths due to Covid continues to be a raging controversy. The Ministry appointed expert committee of nine virologists, as well as the Sri Lanka Medical Association and the College of Community Physicians declared nearly three months ago that there was no scientific evidence whatsoever to say that the disease could spread by contaminating the underground water table if bodies are buried. Yet the authorities thought it fit to rely, perhaps for political reasons, on a solitary report with an opposing view provided by a committee consisting mainly of Judicial Medical Officers and non- medical geologists, both categories with no expertise in the field of viral diseases. Eventually, the government had to bow down to international pressure from human rights advocates to do what should have been done months ago. How much heartburn and unrest was caused to the community need not be stressed here.
Several leading doctors registered to practice allopathic medicine keep advising people on public media about unproven health benefits of various traditional food products and health practices. Some of these food products like the varieties of rice promoted are quite expensive, compared to commonly used ones. The main claim made is that these foods gave immense strength to warriors (“yodhayas”) who won wars in the times of ancient kings! One can remember some doctors promoting papaya extracts as a cure for dengue fever. With their reputation as qualified doctors people tend to believe them. The risk is that the people following such advice often ignore life saving guidelines with disastrous consequences. There is no doubt about the unethical nature of this practice.
The Medical Council of Switzerland recently removed a doctor from the medical register for speaking in public against the well-proven recommendations to control the spread of Covid like face masking, social distancing, vaccination, etc. The doctor claimed that his right to freedom of speech should be respected. However, the Medical Council held the view that a doctor cannot mislead the public, and now that he is no longer a registered medical practitioner, he will have the freedom to say whatever he wishes. On a similar basis, a medical doctor should not be allowed to smoke tobacco in public, thereby falsely reassuring gullible people that tobacco is harmless. Thus the message is that a doctor has no freedom of speech to speak on matters dealing with health not conforming to established knowledge, principles and practice. This should apply to other professionals as well when they deal with their discipline. Unfortunately, we find politicians, even the few professionals among them, are the most undisciplined with no ethics or principles in practicing their craft!
Doctors are registered with the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) and are under obligation to strictly adhere to the long established ethical principles of the profession. When doctors speak on matters dealing with health, or for that matter on any issue based on science and common sense, people believe them due to the faith they have in their knowledge and wisdom. According to the Hippocratic Oath, doctors are supposed to practice the profession at all times with conscience, dignity, integrity, honesty and compassion. They are not supposed to consider among many other things, political affiliation in their dealings with the people. Beneficence and non maleficence (benefiting and not harming) to those under their care is a basic principle in the practice of medicine. We can only hope that the Sri Lanka Medical Council will emulate its Swiss counterpart in strictly disciplining the doctors registered with them.
Medicine and religion deal with physical and spiritual wellbeing of the people. Practitioners of both are guided by strict codes of ethics. Despite their various shortcomings and misdeeds being highlighted from time to time, the society still respects and believes what they say in view of the vital functions they perform. If they breach the codes of conduct much harm could be done to mankind. It is unfortunate that in several instances mentioned above, the doctors and Buddhist monks have joined together in causing havoc.
Nations are blessed when their leaders act with conscience doing good for the people. Lack of accountability is what seems to drive the politicians and their henchmen to mislead all. Sri Lanka is cursed by an entrenched system that seems to bring out the worst in men, leading to what appears to be collective suicide.
Ven Ajahn Brahmavamso visits Sri Lanka in May
by Nanda Pethiyagoda
The next month, soon to be upon us, is of special significance to the majority of Sri Lankans since we Sinhalese and Tamils celebrate our New Year, with festivities continuing for a week or more in mid-April. The month of May is significant to Buddhists as the three major events of the Buddha’s life are commemorated at the Vesak full moon poya. This year, May carries another significance, joyful and to be grateful for. Ven. Ajahn Brahmavamso arrives here towards the end of the month for about two weeks. The Ajahn Brahm Society of Sri Lanka (ABS) has completed all arrangements for the visit which is full of great good happenings.
The last time Ven Ajahn Brahm was in Sri Lanka was 2017. I well remember the day long sessions of his speaking to the audience in the BMICH, delivering so easily and absorbingly the Word of the Buddha and conducting meditation. 7000 persons were present to listen to the venerable monk from Australia, spreading themselves in all the BMICH halls and a few even seating themselves in the corridors. The sessions, with Ven Ajahn Brahm moving from hall to hall, with of course TV presentations in them, were deep in significance and of immense benefit to us. However, as is his manner of presentation, the gravity of what was being imparted was tempered by Ven Brahmavamso’s informality and constantly smiling, benign face. One indication of his informality is shortening his religious name to Ajahn Brahm.
This time it is one session on May 30 that the monk will conduct at the BMICH. Passes were available at announced venues from the 15th of this month. I am certain they were all snapped up, so eager are we to listen to this great teacher.
His programme, most efficiently arranged and made widely known by the ABS under the guidance of Ven Mettavihari, includes a resident meditation retreat from May 22 to 30 in Bandarawela for 150 participants inclusive of bhikkhus, bhikkhunis and lay persons.
A singularly unique forum will be held exclusively for professionals and business persons at the Galle Face Hotel on May 29. These sessions are by invitation, sent out well in time by ABS.
The much looked forward to Dhamma talk and meditation instructions for the public will be at the BMICH from 7.00 to 11.00 am on May 30. Anticipatory of the large crowds that will flock to the BMICH on that day, the ABS has organised sessions with the venerable monk moving from the Main Hall to Sirimavo Halls A and B so all can see and hear him. He will speak in English, followed by summarizations in Sinhala.
More information could be obtained by emailing email@example.com. For WhatsApp messages the number is 0720735837. The filled applications are to be submitted before 10th April 2023.
It seems superfluous to give details, even brief facts on Ven Brahmavamso, as he is well known in this country of ours. However, it appears pertinent to mention facets of the life of this very blessed Bhikkhu.
He was born in London in 1951. Having read widely on Buddhism, at the tender age of 16, this promising student and keenly interested teenager considered himself a Buddhist by conviction. When in the University of Cambridge following his undergrad course in Theoretical Physics, his strong interest in Buddhism and gravitation to meditation went alongside his studies. After earning his degree he taught for one year, He then decided to follow his greater interest in Buddhist philosophy and practice and so proceeded to Thailand. He followed meditation under a couple of Thai masters. Convinced of his future as a Buddhist Bhikkhu, he was ordained a monk at the age of 23 by the Chief Incumbent of Wat Saket. He then went for further training to the famous meditation teacher – Ajahn Chah. He spent nine years studying and training in the forest tradition. In 1983 he was invited to help establish a forest monastery near Perth, Western Australia. Within a short period he was Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery, Perth. He is also the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia and Spiritual Patron to the Buddhist Fellowship in Singapore. These are but two of the spiritual responsibilities he undertakes. His pragmatic approach and his deep conviction in Dhamma have made him a much sought after Buddhist teacher throughout the world.
We Sri Lankans are truly blessed to have him visit our land and share his knowledge, his conviction in the Buddha Word and his encouragement to meditate.
The team that calls itself the Ajahn Brahm Society Sri Lanka of multi-talented and multi-skilled men and woman are all deeply dedicated to helping us, the public of Sri Lanka, benefit from Ajahn Brahm, acknowledged as an excellent teacher and exponent of the Dhamma. We are most grateful to them and Ven Mettavihari who guides the ABS.
Aragala in US
It was recently reported that Philadelphia would pay $9.25 million to a group of protesters over police use of tear gas and rubber bullets during 2020 unrest in which lots of hardships were caused to the protesters who quite rightly protested against the brtual killing of the black youth, George Floyd.
That is is how the social justice or the democracy are respected in the US. The American authorities are answerable for injustice caused to the general public.
I don’t have to elaborate on the gloomy and undemocratic situations prevailing in this country at present. Two persons have been killed and many others injured in protests during the past several weeks. According to the media there were doubts about the quality of the water and tear gas used on the protesters.
The whole world is well aware of the present state of affairs in our country.
The rulers’ undemocratic actions make use wonder whether ours is a “Democratic Socialist Republic’.
One of best development administrators SL ever had
Mr. K. Thayaparan (KT), who retired from the government service after serving as a development administrator for more than thirty years passed away on Jan 05 at the age of 86. He was born in 1937 in Malaya, which was then under the British rule; his father had migrated there in 1916 for employment. His father was employed in the Malayan Railways, and the family was living a happy life. In the late 1940s, there erupted a terrorist movement launched by Communists of Chinese origin. To fight with the terrorists the British Government had issued a conscription order for all school leavers above the age of 17 years to join the military. Many families with male children over 17 years fled to Ceylon to avoid conscription. Since KT’s family also had a male child who had been noticed to report for military duty, his family members too other than his father left Malaya in 1951 and came to live in Ceylon. In Jaffna, KT resumed and completed his school education. In 1958 he entered the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya to undertake studies in geography, economics and history.
During the university days, KT had won university colours in badminton. He graduated in 1961, and served as a school teacher in the Matara district. In 1962, after sitting a competitive examination, KT joined the Government Divisional Revenue Officers’ service. In 1963, together with the other officers of the DROs’ service and comparable services, KT was absorbed into the Ceylon Administrative Service that had been created in place of the Ceylon Civil Service, which had simultaneously been abolished.
Till 1975 KT served in the district administration in the northern districts, first as DRO, then as Asst. Government Agent and as Addl. Government Agent. From 1976 to 1979 he worked in the Ministry of Fisheries as Deputy Director Planning, and contributed to the development of the National Fisheries Development Plan 1979 – 1983. The Fisheries Development Plan, among other activities had concentrated on exploitation of the fish resources in the Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone, which was proclaimed in 1977, and utilisation of irrigation reservoirs and village tanks for development of inland fisheries. The Government made a policy decision to implement an accelerated programme to develop inland fisheries and aquaculture. For this purpose, a new Division called the Inland Fisheries Division was set up in the Ministry, and KT was appointed its director.
The accelerated development programme had a number of activities to perform. Establishment of fish breeding stations in different parts of the country, recruitment and training of scientific and technical officers to serve at fish breeding centres, import of exotic fish species suitable for culture in Sri Lankan inland waterbodies, training of youth in inland fishing and aquaculture, promotion of investments in shrimp farming, etc. Funding agencies like UNDP, ADB and individual countries on bilateral basis came forward to support the accelerated inland fisheries development programme by providing funds for development of infrastructure, providing technical assistance, providing foreign training for the scientific and technical staff who were mostly young people without experience, and providing advisory services. It was heavy work for KT, but he managed the Division and its work smoothly.
KT was a firm believer in team work. He knew workers in all outstation inland fisheries or aquaculture establishments by name. He distributed foreign training slots offered by donor countries or agencies to every scientific or technical officer on an equitable basis. He listened to everybody, and was quite loved by his staff. KT was quite neutral in politics. However, in spite of his hard work to develop the inland fisheries sector, he was transferred out of the Ministry in 1985 to the SLAS Pool.
In 1979 when KT took over the responsibility of developing inland fisheries and aquaculture in the country, the total national inland fish production in Sri Lanka was 17,400 tons. During his tenure of nearly six years, the national inland fish production steadily increased and in 1985, the year he was transferred it had increased to 32,700 tons, showing an increase of nearly 90%. Also, there were 4,500 inland fishing craft operating in reservoirs, and the number employed as fishers, fish collectors, fish traders, etc. was over 10,000.
After leaving the Ministry of Fisheries he served different assignments such as Director Regional Development, National Consultant or the World Bank funded Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Project, Secretary to the North-East Provincial Council Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, and Secretary to the State Ministry Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs. In 1995, he was appointed Addl. Secretary Development of the Ministry of Fisheries, but his stay in this post was brief since the then Minister replaced him with one of his political supporters. His last government assignment was as Addl. Secretary, Ministry of Plan Implementation, National Integration and Ethnic Affairs. In 1997, he retired from the government service, but continued in a few foreign funded projects as institutional development consultant. He once told that his most productive period in the government service was as Director Inland Fisheries. After retirement he authored several books, Reminiscences of Malaya 1937 – 1951, Stories of Some Brave Men and High Achievers, and Introduction to Some Known High Achievers.
Although he was quite suitable to be appointed the Secretary to a Ministry, he was never considered for such a post. In the final years of his career, he was compelled to serve under his juniors. But he carried on regardless and did the best in whatever the capacity he served.
Cabinet gives green light to develop Sigiriya as a sustainable tourism destination
Cabinet approves incorporation of the Sri Lanka Institute of Agriculture
Vesak week from 2nd to 8th May 2023
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
Features5 days ago
Happy Birthday dearest Mrs. Peries !
News4 days ago
Mano says LG and PC elections equally important
News6 days ago
Decorated gunship pilot blacklisted for appearing on political stage
Midweek Review7 days ago
Growing foreign dependency and India’s USD 4 bn lifeline
News6 days ago
No more selling of Hajj visas, assures Minister
Breaking News7 days ago
Property tax to be replaced with Wealth Tax, Gift Tax and Estate Tax – President
Editorial7 days ago
Celebration of debt
Sports6 days ago
Sri Lanka’s flawed ODI strategies