Disconnect Between Expertise and Reality

Issue Date: 12/19/2005, Posted On: 12/24/2005

By Bal Ram Singh

Sometime in November 1988, I suffered from a minor upset stomach problem (I had slight abdominal discomfort), and visited my physician, Dr. Vastola, in Madison, WI.

As Vastola started questioning, he paused on my answer to his question, "What did you eat yesterday?" I had replied: vegetable curry, rice, and bread. He appeared to have hit upon some treasure, further questioned me about the contents of the curry, and upon hearing it contained all sorts of spices, he immediately pronounced I had ulcer.

"But, Dr. Vastola, my discomfort is towards the lower part of my stomach. Isn't the ulcer to cause discomfort in the upper part of the stomach?"  I pleaded.  "Hun... hun.., why don't you get this prescription, and see me after three days," he muttered while leaving the prescription in my hand. I was not sure if he accepted my plea or ignored it.

I thought whatever he decided must be the right prescription. After all, he was a trained physician, an expert working for a famous Health Maintenance Organization, and was highly recommended by my friend, Chinmoy Ray, who had lived in Madison for 10 years before I got there.

When I reported back to Dr. Vastola three days later that there was no relief from the prescription, he said, "Well, you do not have ulcer then. We need to do more tests."

Since that time, I have become watchful of experts - in politics, economics, sociology, religion, computers, education, science who shove their ideas down the public's throat.  The world seems to be suffering from hyper expertise problem, what I would like to label as HEP.

Earlier this year, Professor Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize-winning economics expert at Harvard University, displayed HEP at a meeting in Hong Kong praising the communist China's state medical system under the cultural revolution.

Sen was treading along very well with facts and figures on infant mortality and life expectancy, especially in comparison to India, when suddenly he was confronted by Weijian Shan, who had actually lived through the Cultural Revolution in China as one of Mao's "barefoot doctors."

According to an editorial in February 21, 2005 Wall Street Journal entitled, "A Nobel Prize-winning economist spouts off, and a Chinese survivor sets him straight," Shan is quoted as saying "I observed with my eyes the total absence of medicine in some parts of

China. The system was totally unsustainable, we used to admire India."

 In September 2005, HEP was again at display in Saudi Arabia, when the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Karen Hughes, addressed an audience of 500 women at a Saudi Dar Al-Hekma College  in an effort to impart some American values and expert advice, saying "driving car was an important part of my freedom."

She received an earful from the burqua-clad women, thought to be backwards by centuries. "I don't want to drive a car," said Dr. Siddiqa Kamal, an obstetrician and gynecologist who runs her own hospital. "I worked hard for my medical degree. Why do I need a driver's license?"

"The general image of the Arab woman is that she isn't happy," one audience member said. "Well, we're all pretty happy." The room, full of students, faculty members and some professionals, resounded with applause.

Very recently HEP raised its ugly head again in California when a German linguist, Michael Witzel, a professor at Harvard's Sanskrit and Indian Studies department claiming expertise in Indian history, culture, and religion, interjected himself into the issue of sixth grade textbook portrayal of India in general, and Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, in particular.

While concerned parents, community educational organizations, and education experts, had worked out a reasonably acceptable text for social studies books, Witzel along with several of his like minded colleagues (including Stanely Wolpert whose sensational books were banned by Indian government during Indira Gandhi's days, and D. N. Jha, whose book on beef eating in India was banned by Indian courts in 2001) wrote a letter to the California Board of Education, berating Hindus, Hindu scholars, and Indian Americans, urging "to reject the demands of nationalist Hindu ("Hindutva") groups that the California textbooks be altered to conform to their religious political views."

Witzel represents a group of remaining colonialist scholars who are trying to hold on to their view of the existence of an Aryan race, a view that has been decimated within the past decade by a group of very dedicated individuals like N. S. Rajaram, S. Kalyanraman, and David Frawley.

They have collected more effective scientific and archeological evidences, as opposed to linguistics and speculative history, to refute the existences of Aryan race, ever. BBC recently reported that the Aryan Invasion Theory among other things "provided basis for racism in the Imperial context by suggesting that the peoples of Northern India were descended from invaders from Europe and so racially closer to the British Raj."

More modern and scientific data such as genetics supplied by Dr. Panse (a practicing Hindu and a biotechnology professor) to the CBE was noticed by a California curriculum commissioner, Dr. Stan Metzenberg, when he rejected Witzel's claims on Aryan theories saying: "I've read the DNA research and there was no Aryan migration. I believe the hard

evidence of DNA more than I believe historians." He further commented that Witzel's portrayal of Hinduism as 'insensitive' and something that Hindus themselves would be unable to recognize.

All these events go a long way to show how excessive HEP may have resulted in a massive disconnect between the reality and portrayal of the reality, and may well be responsible for much of the turmoil seen in the world today.

Bal Ram Singh, the director of the Center for Indic Studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, may be reached at bsingh@umassd.edu.