Where Lies the Power of Science?
The way science is often presented to the public, the difference between branches of science and how they study things differently is not made very clear. When scientists step out of a field of expertise, they should be not just aware of the different information and models, but also the social structures that drive research production. A great example is physics students or professors talking about subjects of medicine, biology, psychology, sociology or related fields, misinforming their audiences along the way and abusing their credentials of science to blend subjects together into a fine paste.
Physics typically studies things like energy, forces, particles ect., and their models of their physical representation and their observed interactions. Medicine, on the other hand, focuses on people, specifically conditions that make them sick or disabled. The major difference between these two is that the subjects of medicine can also in certain cases become the people who produce the knowledge of the subject - for example, autistic people can eventually become autism researchers, and contribute towards the field. In theory, any medical condition could fit this criteria, and typically it is structural barriers, such as lack of accessibility, assumptions made on disabilities and direct discrimination that interferes with this ability. Obviously an electron or a black hole can’t do this. This causes medicine to be, to some extent, self-reflective - its a science about ourselves, and thus it embeds social power structures between those who research and treat, and those who are patients.
Because medicine is directly related to disability, it is also involved to labor and production; patching the relationship between the worker and their body, making it an inherently extremely political subject. Society is forced to ask what to do with people who need more medical care than others, and how to communicate healthcare advice to reduce and eliminate disease. In comparison, the subject of physics often struggles to have political relevance to voters, often leading to underfunded projects.
What this means is that medicine, unlike physics in most cases, is a field that directly impacts people, and people are inherently political subjects. After all, in order for physics to impact people’s lives, it needs to be applied in other fields, such as civil engineering or medicine. To most people, physics is more about mysterious foreign objects that they’ll never directly observe, like black holes or electrons, rather than something that almost anyone knows, like different types of people. Therefore, the expression of opinions within medicine are going to be very wide, especially in highly competitive or controversial fields, like cancer health, mental health or LGBTQ healthcare, since they not only reflect scientific revolutions, but also political expression. One has to have an extensive understanding of anatomy and the social impact of medicine to truly explore these problems sufficiently. Simply quoting an expert merely embeds their political opinions, and limits the power one has over their very own body. Make no mistake - health is politics. People talk about health coverage in the United States so much because of how much it impacts people’s existential struggle. In addition, there is also how medicine has been historically used as a political tool of oppression against minorities.
This is not to say medicine is bad! Indeed, I want to promote more basic medical literacy through my disability theory work. Rather, medicine will always be a political subject, because even if we are made of protons and the universe can be described in equations, somehow, the big picture of our bodies still matters more to our every day living. Knowing how the universe works on the scale of planck’s constant won’t stop you and everyone else from dying, and you still need a doctor to help determine the best course of treatment for your complex cancer. Instead, in this context, physics provides the knowledge to engineer the tools to treat these illnesses - physics gives the knowledge to create, and medicine gives the knowledge to prevent suffering and death. And there is boundless potential at this intersection. The production of a new kind of subject - an understanding that unites the existential struggle of death with that of the structure of creation - lies at the edge of this boundary.
In order for someone trained in physics to engage with medicine, they have to take the subject of the body seriously. They have to take the struggle of the patient seriously, and be humble to what the bodies have to say - to take a real clinical perspective. And likewise, the other way around, medicine must take seriously the molecular interactions between particles, the quantum behaviors in the brain, the extremely complex interactions of organic chemistry throughout multiple pathways of the body. The most revolutionary fields in science already push these boundaries, but they remain unknown to the public, without their power - those who need to know it most, for the political reasons mentioned previously.
Imagine what could be possible if blind, deaf, wheelchair bound, diabetic, cancer patients, the chronically ill… autistic, schizophrenic, brain damaged, traumatized, all sorts of people were capable of working together, combining the power of physics and medicine together to make a world for them, a world where science no longer defined them but they were a part of the production of the research that structures them, beyond being just the scientific subject. This is what is at stake as a political subject. These people aren’t some externality that is removed from your every day life - these people are you, or someone you know, or someone you knew. The power of science lies in the people, in the bodies of the very patients - in you.