Follow the Science

When you wish upon a star
Your dreams will take you very far,
But when you wish upon a dream
Life ain’t always what it seems
[Earth, Wind & Fire]

In a thought-provoking piece, F. D. Flam, a columnist for Bloomberg, highlighted that “Follow the science” is more of a slogan than a concrete policy. This sentiment is echoed in an upcoming book by Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, where she delves into the murky side of the pharmaceutical industry and corrupt governments.

The phrase “follow the science” has become somewhat wearisome in the post-Covid and climate change era, leading to a level of skepticism towards information presented under its banner. Science, once the realm of philosophers and thinkers, has evolved with the introduction of The Scientific Method. This systematic approach allows scientists to observe, formulate hypotheses, and rigorously test and refine them until conclusions are drawn.

The Greek philosopher, Empedocles, who lived in the 5th century BC, is known for his theory of the four elements which he believed were the fundamental building blocks of the universe. In the early 18th century, a German chemist named Georg Ernst Stahl developed the theory of Phlogiston, a substance believed to be released during combustion and thought to explain the process of burning and the properties of substances that could burn.

What on earth does this have to do with the heritage of St Croix? Well, in 1775, a gentleman by the name of I. P. Baker, living in Kingston, Jamaica, wrote an essay entitled “The Art of Making Muscovado Sugar – wherein A New Process is Proposed”.

In his essay, he refers to the elements of earth, air, fire, and water, and expounds on the doctrines of Affinities; of Salt; of Oils; of Gums; on the use of Egg Whites; and the manufacture of sugar. Phlogiston features in much of the text. 

What strikes me most in reading this essay is how incredibly wrong the hypothesis of the process chemistry is when considered in the domain of contemporary knowledge, and the realization of how valuable the experienced sugar boiler would have been to the success of creating sugar in the 18th century – because it certainly wasn’t “the science”.

And that leads me to John Gottlieb, also known as General Buddhoe. Gottlieb was a skilled boiler operator who was highly sought after for his expertise in sugar production. Due to his exceptional abilities, he was frequently lent out to different plantations to help rectify and enhance their operations. His trusted role of interacting with slaves from various estates enabled him to significantly contribute to the widespread agitation and the eventual outcome of the “fireburn”. Phlogiston in action?

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