Whales, science and the politics of politics
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-26 07:53

Whales, science and the politics of politics

It's funny more whales will be killed as long as the world goes on debating the pros and cons of whaling. The world knows how important whales are to marine ecology and, by extrapolation, to ecology as a whole. But who's going to explain that to the politicians? I mean, you need to explain things to someone who's ignorant. You must have heard about the adage: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

Delegates of pro- and anti-whaling countries to the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Madeira, an autonomous Portuguese island in the Atlantic, have agreed to extend "reform talks" that began a year ago (you've guessed it right) by another year. The irony is that whales will be left only in museums by the time they agree to agree - if at all they do that.

Politics has been ruling science since times immemorial. In medieval Italy, priests (or politicians) of another kind forced Galileo to eat his words. In modern times, Hitler divided the world on political lines. But that is well known. What is less known is that broke up the brotherhood of scientists.

Let's visit Gottingen and a couple of other German cities before Hitler grabbed power. What do we see? Physicists and chemists from across the world. There is the imposing figure of Niels Boehr, the charismatic Ernest Rutherford, the one and only Albert Einstein, the brilliant Max Planck, and hundreds, if not thousands, of other great scientists. They exchange letters (that long forgotten form of correspondence) on their work. So an Irene Joliot-Curie and a Frederic Joliot in France knows what their fellow scientists in Germany are doing, and vice-versa.

There is camaraderie and love for younger scientists and their works. Rutherford's love for his juniors, especially the Russian Pyotr Kapitsa, is well known. In comes a young brat called Robert Oppenheimer, leaving a trail of uneasy brilliance.

But Hitler's fascist policies ended all that. It drew the brooding Friedrich Weizsacker to his side (though he claimed to be soon disillusioned by Hitler) and forced Werner Heisenberg to work for the Third Reich (though he claimed to have delayed the Nazis' plan to build an atomic bomb that proved so decisive in World War II).

A majority of the scientists fled Germany to become the "property" of the US. Einstein urged Franklin Roosevelt to expedite the US' atomic-bomb plan. Oppenheimer led the Manhattan Project, in which Otto Hahn was to play a leading role. Kapitsa was held back in Russia by Stalin to serve the fatherland. In short, the scientific world was divided forever.

So what's the moral of the story? Politics rules science. And what's in all this for the whales? Everything! For years, the IWC has known whaling can't be stopped by expressions of just right or wrong.

The whalers and anti-whalers both have been extolling the virtues of "sound science". Japan (Norway and Iceland are the other two whaling protagonists) has been arguing for years that the decision on whether the oceans have enough whales to allow some hunting should be based on "science, rather than emotion".

But science is bunk, as Henry Ford said about history, and all those talk about science by Japan, Norway, Iceland and other whaling countries, bunkum.

Whaling is all about keeping one's electorate happy and about money! And if lucre is what lures some countries to kill whales, they should turn their harpoons into gardening forks and their boats into pleasure cruisers. After all, whale-watching generates tourism revenue of about $2.1 billion a year across the world, much more than whaling, which draws just tens of millions of dollars.

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com