Unlike US President Donald Trump, the Indian Prime Minister understands the importance of science for a country’s development and has a vision for its promotion in India, opined two Nobel laureates who held ‘chai pe charcha’ — a brief informal meeting after the inaugural event — with PM Narendra Modi Thursday on the sidelines of 106th Indian Science Congress at Lovely Professional University in Phagwara.
Speaking to The Indian Express on the sidelines of his lecture, Israeli biochemist Avram Hershko, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2004 for his discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation, said that not all politicians understand science and it’s importance, but Indian Prime Minister Modi does. “Unlike US president Donald Trump, who thinks science and research is waste of money, Modi does not think that way. That is what I gauged after meeting him today,” said Hershko, who was on his maiden visit to India, adding, “I told him that basic sciences are as important as applied sciences and that there should be equal focus and investment in basic sciences’ research.”
German-American Thomas C Sudhof, who was given the Nobel Prize in 2013 in physiology and medicine, said that the Trump-led government in the US is not spending enough to promote science and research, whereas Modi’s approach in this regard looks promising.
“President Trump has a very short-term view of the country’s growth, which does not include science and enough money is not being spent in the US on infrastructure to promote science and research. Modi is an intelligent Prime Minister. That is what I felt after meeting him today. All politicians say and claim that they understand the importance of research and make promises, but the point is what you actually do. It is about fulfilling those promises and taking action. Currently, as far as the US is concerned, enough money is not being spent to build infrastructure, not only to promote science and research, but overall. Trump simply does not understand the importance of science for a country. His vision for country’ growth does not go beyond the economic growth. He lacks long-term vision to foster good research,” said Sudhof who is now based in California.
Sudhof added that he was “highly impressed” by the degree of understanding and preparation that Modi had for the science event. “He had a great grasp on the issues. I tried to explain him that it is extremely important for a country to have fundamental science culture. He agreed. Without a good science culture, a country cannot progress and that is what I told Modi also,” said Sudhof who delivered a lecture on ‘Understanding Brain Diseases’.
Sudhof further said that after meeting PM Modi, he gauged that he knows the importance of developing knowledge-based culture for the economic growth of a country. “In a country like India, there is a always an overwhelming temptation to run behind new technologies, but running behind those technologies without quality research is foolishness. It is never going to work. This is what I feel. After meeting the Indian PM, I observed that he has dedication and intelligence to understand the importance of research and science. Before coming here, I had read about Modi in a British journal and his success story as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, but now as a PM he is facing his own set of challenges,” said Sudhof.
He had words of advice for young scientists also. “Having a great number of publications and research papers is never a parameter to judge good research work. Young scientists should focus on content of their work. It is a bad tendency to run after the number of publications. There is a simple formula that one research paper, which has quality work, can be way more important than 10. This rat race to publish more research papers in never fair,” he said.
“In the US not many people opt for careers in science because they are not paid well and careers in science are very unattractive there. It is only those persons who are genuinely interested in science who go for a career in it there,” he added.
Another Nobel Laureate who was also present during the ‘chai pe charcha’, Duncan Haldane, a Britisher who was given the prize in physics in 2016, said that he discussed science-funding policy with Modi during the meeting. “Our discussion revolved around having a good science and research base in a country,” he said.