Using western science methods to assess IK
First, by "western science methods" we mean methods used by
western science to develop and test technologies, methods, or practices. For
example, soil sample tests, measurement. of animal feed intake, or blood tests
to monitor the effects of certain drugs.
But IK can be different IK is holistic. it can be difficult to
differentiate into many subject matters, each treated separately by western
science. And, to attempt to describe all western science methods which could be
used to assess IK would be impractical. Instead, we will highlight some
principles and give a few examples
Principles for assessing IK with western science methods
- As with all research, the selection of western
science methods for assessment of IK should be based on objectives defined
before the assessment (see Recording IK in communities).
- The assessment needs to be based on a throough understanding
of the IK to be assessed.
- The experimental design should do justice to the special
nature of IK (e.g.,, recognizing its holistic nature, not purely economic
- Insiders' assessment should complement western science
- IK should be viewed in the broad context of culture, society,
- We must recognize the limitations of western science for the
assessment of IK in order to interpret our study results correctly.
1 Western science methods can lead to false conclusions when
used to assess IK (see Criteria for assessing IK).
2 Western science, lacking the means to understand an indigenous
practice or technology, might belittle it. A classic example is acupuncture. For
a long time western science had no explanation for acupuncture and therefore
disregarded it. This is changing and acupuncture is being integrated into
western medicine's curricula.
Examples of western science methods used to assess IK
The following are some examples of western science methods which
could be used to assess IK. This list shows that approaches developed in
different disciplines can be used. Keep in mind that these methods should be
combined with insiders' assessment.
Animal Production and healthcare
Let's suppose that a community wishes to expand and improve its
livestock production system. The following western science methods could
determine the efficiency of local animal production and healthcare practices and
indicate which aspects of the indigenous system could be used, improved, or
blended with western practices:
- Measure productivity of animals, recording both
inputs and outputs (ace Criteria for assessing IK).
- Observe the condition of livestock kept in the community (this
could be done by ocular inspection, weighing and measuring animals, etc.).
- Test for Parasites by investigating feces of randomly selected
animals (this will require some laboratory tests).
- Identify medicinal plants used by the community and test their
efficacy. The medicinal qualities of some plants have already been established
in the scientific literature.
Indigenous paper making
- Calculate amount of raw materials and energy used in the
- Test quality of paper in the laboratory (do not forget to keep
the local use in mind when making any statement about the paper's quality).
Effect of IK on environment
- Assess biodiversity in the environment of the study community
(e.g., count number of species in an area of a certain size).
- Measure nutrients in soil.
- Measure runoff and soil erosion from fields.
Indigenous birth attendants
- Collect data about course and outcome of deliveries assisted
by indigenous birth attendants and analyze results using statistics.
- Investigate condition of instruments used by local birth
attendants (e.g., whether the instruments are clean, which bacteria they
- Assess number of Persons reached by messages transmitted
through indigenous channels.
- Measure time needed for transmission.
Compiled by Evelyn