ONE DOESN’T need a degree in science to have a scientific temper, said astrophysicist Aniket Sule at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) on Monday. He went on to bust myths and pseudo-scientific claims made by politicians during the public lecture held at the institute to mark the National Scientific Temper Day on the fifth death anniversary of rationalist, Narendra Dabholkar.
“Science is always evolving. It is possible that science will discover some new evidence sometimes which may prove that a new theory is needed. But till that evidence is presented, you cannot just take all these theories and start treating them as equal. Just because someone has created a theory, which s/he calls an alternate theory doesn’t mean it has to be treated at par with an existing theory,” said Sule, a reader at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) of TIFR.
He said for scientific discoveries to gain recognition, they have to be quality-checked through peer reviews. “Unfortunately, today most of the theories available on the Internet are fake. They have never been reviewed,” he said. Earlier this year, when over 250 scientists, students, teachers and academicians walked in silence to protest against fund cuts in science, they announced that August 20 would be remembered as the National Scientific Temper Day. They said there was a need to ‘counter increasing pseudoscientific ideas in popular culture, textbooks and public discourse’.
A series of lectures in schools and colleges was planned on the theme ‘Ask Why’, apart from the public lecture at TIFR. By Monday, over 10 lectures in schools and colleges had been completed and 18 more are planned in the next week.
“Anecdotes are not same as statistics and correlation doesn’t mean causation,” said Sule. He cited examples of statements made by some politicians such as Darwin’s theory being incorrect, Internet being in use during the time of the Mahabharat and Ganesh being the example of plastic surgery.
Science has a process and method of scrutinising evidence and everyone should ask questions about any claims made on scientific research, he said. “Does it defy common sense? Is it consistent with some basic, well-established scientific principle? Is it inconsistent with other scientific facts? These are the questions one must ask,” he said.
“For instance, it is true that ancient scientists had made a lot of progress in medicine. Shushruta did fantastic things in his time. In 800 BC, he conducted rhinoplasty. He could fix a broken nose. So you can say that plastic surgery existed in India in 800 BC but putting somebody’s head on somebody else is not plastic surgery,” said Sule.