Let It Remain Science, In The Interest Of Science…

national science congress

Evolution of scientific mind serves as a prerequisite to the scientific evolution of society requiring a sustained commitment to science, and its governance

“Science is a beautiful gift to humanity; we should not distort it,” remarked Dr A.P. J. Abdul Kalam – a quintessential name in the arena of Indian space and nuclear technology.

Early this month, the annual session of the prestigious 105th Indian Science Congress (ISC) was deferred and relocated to Manipur University. Alluding at a significant departure in the century-old tradition of Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) – in organising India’s largest convention of scientists. It signifies no good omen for science in India at the onset of 2018, despite ISRO marking its 100th satellite launch. It reeks of politics tiptoeing into the annals of Science Congress marking a ‘new low’ in its chronicles.

Science, as the victim –

The previous sessions of the science congress, particularly the 102nd and 103rd ISC were no less marred with scientific ridicule. Pseudo-sciences and mythology took centre stage, as science witnessed itself being guillotined. Verily, the 2015 Congress saw assertions being made about ancient aviation technology and radar systems. It latched on the Vedic legacy and contributions of sages at a symposium on ‘Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit’. A la, the 2016 Congress had its own share of absurdity, where bizarre claims about the benefits of blowing a conch were made by no less than an IAS officer. A paper titled – ‘Lord Shiva – As a Greatest Environmentalist in the World’ stirred the ISC’s  103rd session. Disgruntled about the happenings at ISC, Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan had dubbed it as a ‘circus’, where very little science is discussed. Obscurantist and irrigational approach towards science and its applications is putting India on a back foot, while letting science be the victim.

Obscurantism as new trend?

Obscurantism is not new or seldom, but is writ large in our diurnal lifestyle. Prevalent in various basic forms and designs – through horoscopes; vastu consultation while owning or renting a house; inauspiciousness associated with solar eclipse; uncanny ritualism vis-vis marriages, mensuration and divinity, et al. This and more of such practices find their place and presence among all classes, sections and communities in the subcontinent. It further gets validated through religious undertones and cultural narratives that act as cover for its unconditional acceptance. Taking acceptance levels from societal stage to administrative levels to governance makes room for absurdity to be the focal point. Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s five-day ‘Yagam’ in 2015 seeking relief from a prolonged drought is just an instance in this direction. More appalling are statements of irresponsibility from positions of power. It takes obscurantism and irrationality to new levels, in doing so institutionalising the narratives lacking scientific basis. It is a deliberate interpolation and aberration in reverence to the ancient scientific past. Like the invocation of India’s scientific past at the 2015 Congress by Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister for Science and Technology. He had remarked, “Our scientists discovered the Pythagoras theorem but we very sophisticatedly gave its credit to the Greeks. We all know we knew ‘beej ganit’ much before the Arabs, but very selflessly allowed it to be called algebra.” This and several such untenable statements and delusionary practices lacking scientific coherence are promoted on a colossal scale. They are further glorified through various channels and forms of media that stimulate people’s religio-cultural sentient leaving little or no room for rational enquiry.

Obsessive scientific past, derisive science

Lately, attempts aimed at dislodging science from its pedestal and elevation of pseudoscience appear in motion. A culture of ethnocentric chauvinism and dogmatism is being pushed through various channels at liberty. The ball in this direction was set rolling in late 2014 by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. He had, at the opening ceremony of a hospital in Mumbai asserted that modern medical achievements – plastic surgery, cloning and in-vitro fertilisation – were all practised in ancient India. He referred to Ganesha’s elephant head, a Hindu deity, as proof of advanced transplant surgery, and Kunti’s conceiving in the Mahabharata as evidence of in-vitro fertilisation. Prior to this, he had embarrassed himself with a blooper on climate change, stating that ‘climate has not changed, but we have changed, our habits have.’ Former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair to was found invoking Vedas and ancient scriptures validating the knowledge of cosmos, astronomy, metallurgy, etc. The latest being debunking of Darwin’s theory of evolution as ‘scientifically incorrect’ and the need for its withdrawal from school’s/college curriculum. This comes from the Union MoS for HRD, Satyapal Singh, who also served in capacity as the Police Commissioner of Mumbai. Statements such as these and many more like cow exhaling oxygen, yoga as a panacea to cancer, astrology superseding science, peahen being a celibate, et al are a poor reflection on society. For it not just lacks basic scientific wisdom, but infringes upon on an individual’s right to ‘scientific temper and spirit of enquiry’ which the Constitution calls to imbibe under Article 51A.

Science in perspective and principle

Development of scientific mind is a prerequisite to scientific growth and discovery. It calls for a sustained commitment to science, governance of science, investment in innovation and technology, AI, big data analysis, quantum communication, robotics, renewable energy, R&D, and more. For it to happen, there is an earnest need to spend on basic research, given applied science depends on the knowledge of basic science. It develops the know-how of future and in building a rational society that is resource-rich but knowledge-poor.

Recently a breakthrough in field of astrophysics was made by Indrani Banerjee, a research scholar at IISc. and her supervisor Banibrata Mukhopadhyay. It alludes at a seminal work in the study of black holes – in predicting the spin of black holes, a measure of their rotational speeds, and a tool to explore these exotic and mysterious objects. Likewise, a path-breaking work in the area of ‘cancer cure’ has been made by Prof. Sathees C. Raghavan and his team, of the Department of Biochemistry at the IISc. The drug molecule “SCR-7” named after the professor, can block the repair of broken DNA in a cancer cell, thus preventing the propagation of cancer cells.

There is a need for deterrence against the penetration of pseudo-science in the domain of sciences, and not let it become a jamboree of irrationalism and obscurantism. The Science Congress being a platform for popularisation of science and public engagement needs to act as a vehicle for promotion of rationalism and expression of reason. More so, in the wake of growing trend of irrationality and unscientific claims. An urgent need is to speak out against the colossal mockery of science, especially the one coming from positions of responsibility and authority.

For a society to evolve in the field of science and technology it has to develop and grow in the spirit of reason and scientific temper, both in outlook and approach. As the Prime Minister had anticipated at the 104th session of Science Congress in Tirupati – India being among top 3 countries in S&T by 2030. A realisation in this direction can be attained, when individuals collectively as a society develop the courage – to think differently, to invent, to travel the unexplored path, and to discover the impossible, as Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had aptly remarked. Let us remain committed towards the promotion of science and scientific temper, and in our resolve towards letting science remain science.

Mohammed Tahsin  is a journalism student at Manasagangotri, University of Mysore


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