Speaking of science

Controversies about Indian Science Congress point to a deeper problem in science administration.

By: Express News Service | Updated: January 11, 2016 4:38 am

Yet another session of the Indian Science Congress (ISC) drew to a close marked by public hilarity and exasperation among scientists. The ISC Association was established in 1914 to promote science and the scientific temper by connecting scientists, administrators, policymakers, communicators and the people. The nationalistic celebration of antique Indian science was not a serious objective. However, the high point of the 102nd ISC in Mumbai last year was a controversy over a spurious text claiming aeronautical and space-faring capabilities in early India. This year’s congress at Mysore University has attracted attention for a presentation positing that Shiva was an ecological pioneer. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, has dismissed the event as a “circus” remote from the pursuit of science and resolved never to attend again.

There is a puzzling dichotomy between the bizarre behaviour on display at the ISC and India’s scientific prowess. The space programme has been amazingly energetic, for instance, delivering landmarks in lunar and planetary research on minimal budgets. Some branches of science plod along, though, as if they were caught in some Sargasso Sea of inadequacy. It was the mandate of the ISC, an early attempt at cross-disciplinary academics, to draw multiple threads of science and mathematics together. The world bristles with venues for presenting specialist papers to peers, and this is not one of them. At the ISC, it is more important for specialists to collaborate across specialisations to evolve a general direction for Indian science, and to communicate it to the media and the public. Recently, it has evolved a focus on women, children, pedagogy and science communication, but much more needs to be done to connect the congress more directly with the nation and the people.

The ISC falls under the department of science and technology and if it seems to be under the weather, it also reflects confusion and discomfort in the scientific community over government policy. Last summer, Minister for Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan declared that within two years, all labs under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research would attempt to become self-financing, and would focus on research for national missions like Swachh Bharat and Skill India. Cost-benefit analyses and the social benefits of research would matter. Such a policy would immediately value applied science over fundamental research, from which everything springs, and which has traditionally been funded by governments in scientifically capable countries. What is the cost-benefit analysis of the Higgs boson? What is the social benefit of ribosomal research, for which Ramakrishnan won a Nobel? To clarify its mind, the government only needs to ask itself the very simplest questions.

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First Published on: January 11, 2016 12:01 am
  1. A
    Anumakonda Jagadeesh
    Jan 11, 2016 at 2:48 pm
    Well written. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP)
    1. R
      Jan 11, 2016 at 5:52 am
      The ISC has been "marked by hilarity and exasperation" since its inception in 1914 - both for its contribution to India's development and for its members self-importance all these years. The output of these events have been ZERO to minus considering the amount of money these "scientists" have eaten for so-called "research" while producing nothing significant in the last 65 years of independence. Yet apparently they are surprised and "exasperated" when ancient Indian mythology is introduced in their conferences ?? The problem isn't that Shiva or ancient spacecraft have been brought up at the ISC - the problem is that in more than a century of strutting and bombastic drama the ISC has been a dismal failure in bringing science even an inch closer to legitimacy in India - and mainly because of the low calibre of scientists and research in India. All these decades as philosophy, ideology and Nehru family eulogies were being waxed eloquent there was no trouble - but apparently Shiva's ecological activities are a "step too far" ?
      1. M
        M.a. Padmanabha Rao
        Mar 1, 2016 at 6:20 am
        It is true in saying "deeper problem in science administration' in this article. The poor opinion of the public on science in India can be evident from the comment by Raj, "The output of these events have been ZERO to minus considering the amount of money these "scientists" have eaten for so-called "research" while producing nothing significant in the last 65 years of independence". This is due to the reason, top Indian scientists always wrongly projected track record of science in India as poor . I have tried to contact DST officials to project true picture of science in India, by showing my fundamental physics discoveries as many as nine until 2013. But I am not fortunate enough. They did not show any interest in knowing what India has achived through my research. P. K. Ray, Former Director, Bose Insute, Ministry of Science and Technology, Kolkata has published in Science Congress Journal as M.A.Padmanabha Rao has done six fundamental physics . discoveies including the discovery of Bharat radiation in Oct, 2012. But, the Members of Indian Science Congress did not support what Dr P.K. Ray published. I was never invited by science Congress. Instead Nobel laureates from other countries are invited to listen their remarkable achievements. I have realized it is impossible to convince fellow Indian scientists. If some thing is achieved in science, it is for the mankind, beyond geographical boundaries. That is why I have opened the following website for the world community of scientists: M.A.Padmanabha Rao's World Records in Science M.A.Padmanabha Rao's Ten Fundamental Discoveries in Nuclear Physics, X-ray Physics, Atomic Spectroscopy, Solar Physics, Special Theory of Relativity, and Planetary Temperature reported in 2010, 2013 and 2015 in six research papers.
        1. S
          Jan 13, 2016 at 11:40 am
          The editorial " Speaking of Science" (Jan 11) rightly points out the ills of Indian Science Congress(ISC).The Congress should deliberate and discuss on the discoveries and scientific development across the globe.The last one and recently concluded science congress lacked focus and engaged in re-inventing the wheel of development of vedic sciences.The premise of ISC to promote science and scientific temper has been vitiated. The congress should focus on development of sustainable technologies to ameliorate poverty, provide affordable heathcare,higher agriculture productivity,provision of safe drinking water,skill development,etc to the millions of our people.There is a need to redifine the development strategies of science and technology.The researchers should give priority to welbeing of our people.