ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Scientific Enquiry vs Ideology

In the comment, “Replacing Science with Mystery” (EPW, 12 June 2010) that George Thomas wrote on Laurent Pordié’s article, “The Politics of Therapeutic Evaluation in Asian Medicine” (EPW, 1 May 2010), an orthopaedic surgeon, also interested in medical ethics, takes up an anthropological paper addressing issues of power in the health field to share his view and experience on this topic. This is a very welcome initiative, which however shows the need to further encourage dialogue between specialists of different disciplines. Thomas brought back an old debate but does not seem to master its complexity. His argument is embedded in an ideolo gical frame, which characterises numerous MDs in our country who see a binary opposition and impermeable borders between Indian medicine and allopathy. This is unfortunate because the remarkable paper written by Pordié brings a balanced and refreshing analysis of the politics of therapeutic efficacy, which would have rather deserved a constructive comment.

For Thomas, “The Politics of Therapeutic Evaluation in Asian Medicine” promised to offer a new method of therapeutic evaluation, and the author searched for it in vain in the paper. He should have been warned that social sciences offer social criticism and unfortunately not readymade solutions and even less technical propositions. As the title actually suggests, the paper addresses issues of power involved in the evaluation of Asian medicine, such as the hegemony of medical epistemologies over others and the political reorientation of international ethnopharmacology. The paper follows by showing that the proof of efficacy in traditional medicine entails the production of particular types of commodities, which claim universality while remaining strong markers of cultural identity. This process, shows Pordié, involves three important shifts: Indian medicine is rendered more onerous, is increasingly urbanised and solely accessible to the higher social fringes. Biomedical standards create a normative frame which “delimit the space of possibility” (Pordié: 63) for Indian medicine.

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