Five years after doctor and rationalist Narendra Dabholkar was murdered, scientists from across the state will mark his death anniversary — August 20 — as National Scientific Temper Day. A week-long lecture series has been planned this month across colleges and schools in the state to promote rationality, scientific thought and innovation. The event is expected to see the participation of many prominent scientists.
In Mumbai, over 20 scientists from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Tata Institute of Social Science, University of Mumbai and other prominent institutes will deliver lectures on ‘Scientific temper and the art of questioning’. “We have tied up with 25 schools and colleges for the lectures between August 15 and 22. We are in talks with more schools and colleges. The idea is to talk to students and encourage them to question everything they come across,” said Aniket Sule, a scientist from the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education at TIFR. He is also set to deliver a lecture on August 20 at the TIFR auditorium.
The idea is to spread rational thought that arose during the second edition of March for Science that was held earlier this year. It arose from a need to “counter increasing pseudoscientific ideas in popular culture, textbooks and public discourse”, the organisers said.
In April, 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 National Scientific Temper Day. On the day, the scientific community would hold a silent march from Plaza Theatre to Chaityabhoomi at Dadar.
“While scientific temper is something that should be promoted everyday, it is always good to have a day to get public attention on a particular issue,” said Arnab Bhattacharya, a professor from TIFR. “We live in a society that is completely dependent on science and technology. Hence, if you do not have a scientific bent of mind to understand technology, the latest technology might seem like magic. It is not healthy.”
One of the concerns raised during the March for Science is the “decline of scientific temper” in the country and the shift of focus towards “superstition”.
Sule said: “People in position of power are increasingly making comments on science without any evidence. This is problematic.”
Bhattacharya said: “One is free to believe anything he or she wants, as long as those are personal beliefs. The problem starts when they start assigning scientific attributes to these beliefs. It is particularly dangerous when someone in a position of importance makes such claims. It does more harm to the history of science in India. So, through our lectures, we are telling students to not take anything at face value.”
Sule said the lectures would be followed up by scientists helping students in setting up discussion groups and forums in schools and colleges. “As scientists, it is our duty to tell the public that they need to have a rational attitude towards everything,” said Bhattacharya.
In Pune, the National Scientific Temper Day will be observed over two days. While talks by prominent scientists would be organised on August 19, a protest march to mark the fifth death anniversary of Dhabolkar is scheduled to be held on 20.
Cosmologist Jayant Naralikar, senior scientists Satyajit Rath, Vivek Monteiro and Mukta Dabholkar, daughter of Dabholkar and the founder of Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samit (ANIS) are scheduled to speak on the need for developing a scientific temper. The events would be organsied by All India People’s Science Network (AIPSN), ANIS, Lokvidnyan Sanghatana, and the Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts.
“Various programmes have been planned all over India. Hundreds of scientists, members from labour unions, teachers unions, NGOs and Peoples’ Science organisations will come together. The idea is to spread awareness regarding the need for having a scientific temper,” Geeta Mahashabde, an executive committee member of AIPSN, told The Indian Express.
The AIPSN and ANIS have also called upon the organisations and scientific institutions to organise activities on August 20 to mark the day as National Science and Technology Day (NSTD). The second March for Science rally was taken out Pune in April.