The Indian Science Congress has covered the distance from the shores of scientific temper, as Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned in the 1940s, to the precipices of distempered science theories. Perhaps the journey was expedited by the famed Pushpak Viman.
The ISC now inhabits a world where, as we (re)discovered with the 106th ISC in Punjab that has just concluded, Kauravas from the Mahabharata were born using stem cell technology. And Ravana from the Ramayana had 24 types of aircraft (Andhra University vice-chancellor G Nageswara Rao). A world where a PhD holder in “renewal energy systems” from Tamil Nadu, K J Krishnan, has dismissed the theories of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. This isn’t the first time the ISC has been gifted with the richness of retrograde science theories. In 2015, unsuspecting masses were also told that we possessed an ancient radar called “rooparkanrahasya”. At practically every science congress thereafter, some session or the other has yielded fantastical theories. For any ideology to seep into sacrosanct spaces such as campuses and scientific conferences, is a dangerous trend.
The ISC has announced that it will put in place a mechanism to regulate the selection of speakers at the sessions in future, and analyse their speeches as well. Which leaves one wondering at the kind of quality filter (or the absence of it) that existed till now. In 2016, Indian-origin Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan refused to attend any future ISC event, saying “It was a circus”. K VijayRaghavan, principal scientific advisor to the Government of India, was critical in public of the sessions, too. The model of comic performances appears to have been inverted today. While comedy is taken too seriously and censored heavily, serious academic discourse is reduced to easy laughs and allowed official platforms.