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My opinions on “Has Science declined in India”

August 24, 2010

Mohan, mdashf


The outset of such an article, which is so titled, is bound to get some attention and indeed elicit as much interest from anyone who would come across this post.

First of all “who am I?” to write about science and India and in such a short title also draw clear the fact I am going to hit a topic as prophetic as predicting its trends. What do I know about history and what exactly are my scientific credentials? I think this much is enough for me to get started on this article.

But I must also answer the above if I were to justify my raising such questions in the first place. My scientific credentials do not include a Bhatnagar award in India or a MacArthur fellowship in the US, I don’t have an Infosys prize in science.

I am not a director of any elite institutions in India that gives me a great deal of power to say I can direct some of the perceptions this way or that way or I can write something and call it authoritative.

In the same lines what do I really know about India and what do I know about history. In-fact in a span of 8 years two people who I would have respected a great deal, otherwise, hurled this question at me, albeit in a hurried exasperation because their long held beliefs were subjected to a sharp criticism. “What do you know about history?”

And almost any self respecting man who has an iota of knowledge in the social issues of the times one lives in, would retort “What do you know anyway???” But I reserve such upfront remarks to incite further interest in a hot discussion to a friend or a friendly companion who I am sharing a corona or a carlsburg with

(look at my open advocacy of these two beverages but I can’t help in 2010. I can also say, I can ask these fellows “What do you know about beer” but such a scenario does not arise ever.)

Such a question was uncalled for given the age and experience of these two giants. I do have a big deal of respect but I would rather let go of that. But little do I know what kind of insecurity I can generate in a discussion with another fellow.

There was also this tiny creature who was advising me about stuff that I did know inside out because such discussions usually sticks in my mind. Long long ago I read such stuff on the internet and knew this interests the gossip mongers in the (scientific) community so much.

I just don’t know if I am the kind of person that creates such unbounded interest in subjects that are not metaphysical but catches so much fire in the scientific community. Like the question of “to eat beef or not?”, check one of my earlier blogs about the nature of the Indian scientist.

This young fellow with seemingly no understanding of what he was talking about was spewing knowledge of culture and history and my sharp rebuttal of its falsity incited a sharp reaction summed up above from his companion, the giant. “What do I know about history??”.

In a flash of moment in which I remembered what my answer was 8 years ago I restrained myself and somehow the sequence of arguments and counter arguments was broken into a halt. It was indeed attempted to initiate the discussion from where it was broken by my temporal thought adversaries, but I had cleverly remodeled myself in that small break. I took off with a hearty welfare.

And I am thinking after a month. I think I have a pattern of thoughts which just happens on its own. Although now I have a better control over it. Now I can be counted as a self propagating contentious knowledge monger but very confidently I can direct my opinions at you and most definitely you will accept that this is one of my endearing qualities. In the trap of this endearment I possibly lose my case but who is here to win a bet anyway.

Now that I have countered why its not that important, what I know about history anyway, my answer to the questions posed at the beginning of this article is that my credentials in science lie much in the fact that I am an international class scientist who has experienced and interacted with scientists from anywhere in the world, is knowledgeable in the ways of science and how its done including how its done in India.

I have, starting as early as the last decade, been to and lived sizable amount of time in several places(labs and academia) in the world, met and talked to tons of people who do science and those who do not, and have taken a keen observation vantage point in looking for answers as historical as the state of affairs of science.

I have even interacted with ministers and other religious travelers, teachers of history and science about such issues as meaning of science and affairs of scientific communities and significance of our thoughts, meaning of reality and so on.

So has science declined in India? Yes, it has. And why I think its declined. One measure is of-course the fact that the number of world famous scientists, has gone down. World famous signifying not just internationally credited, e.g. some one has a degree from Oxford, someone visits Harvard, someone worked with a Nobel Laurette or someone wrote a paper with some connection with a giant in the field.

You see giants often ask questions like “What do YOU know about history”. World famous can be more understood if I explain it with some examples. In citing world famous scientists I would take the example of Raman, Bose, Chandrasekhar, Bha-Bha and even Narlikar.

Examples that would not count in my head as world famous, not withstanding the fact that a big deal of stuff can be written about them in the Wikipedia , because fame can transcend Wikipedia, are Mr short star and Mr long star. These are more so connected with political lobbying and power game rather than count as examples of world famous scientists.

The truly world famous, to give more examples, I am not necessarily citing the ones that necessarily alter the field with every paper, are Ashok Sen and say Amartya Sen.

I actually tried hard to recall more famous scientists of recent times. This number can increase but not in a way that says Prof CNR Rao is a more world famous scientist than Bose of the Bose Einstein condensation. One reason being the internet didn’t contribute to Bose’s fame but fame transcends internet as well.

Look how much Bose can be discussed and debated for his contribution to that famed paper. That’s a sure shot sign of fame and we can not deny that. Prof CNR Rao is more of an expert rather than a world famed scientist. In that sense Prof Yashpal is a more of an India famous scientist than a world famous scientist.

So one parameter to measure the decline is in terms of the number of world famous scientists and it is substantiated.

What are the other reasons we have to say science has declined?? Well the number of research institutes and research funding has gone up 100-fold. This has created a great pool of scientific expertise, which is not bad in itself. But what has it brought in terms of direct recognition of Indian science in the world?

How many people today can work in India like Chandrasekhar worked in the USA?? How many people can work in India like Stephen Hawking works in England? How many people can work in India like Kobayashi and Masukawa can work in Japan?? Or are these people missing??

On the other hand one may counter my opinions saying look how much we are involved in world science in US/Europe/Japan. Well this was always the case. We were not so much involved in the big particle accelerator or a satellite experiment. But do we have one to our credit in India in present times??

Look at another blog of mine where I propose 10 ideas, such as the International Linear Collider or a dark matter experiment in India. Why not? OK I am hardheartedly hitting at the country’s meager resources. But look how many houses Mr wine star is having around the world? Somewhere I read he has in 27 countries. Just from wine?? Well the flying soccer as well.

But hey its this kind of big wealth that has brought a great deal of scientific efforts to mission, around the world. And its not just the Mr wine star. I just ruined my chances to seek funding from the billionaire. Look how many billionaires there are in or from India.

So while I am hard hitting at some realities I am not that mistaken actually. I think this is an important point in the decline of our science. Remember Jamshed Jee Tata ??? Anyone?? He was the one who donated some of his wealth to the creation of the Indian Institute of Science, if I am not incorrect.

There are a few more examples but none so much for doing science. The present situation with Vedanta University, despite of Anil Agrawal’s philanthropy, is a glaring example of the apathy towards having world class organizations for educational and scientific enterprise.

I have a blog towards Vedanta University. This is another measure of the decline of science. Science is greatly buffered through education and education is a turbulent affair in India. Why?

If you have a basic degree you go for the professional education, MBA and the likes. If you have an advance degree like a PhD from this country or abroad you have the license to do bad science and not get affected because that’s the trend. You are making enough money and as long as that’s satisfied who cares what’s happening with science. So this is another reason for fall of science in this country. Blatant disrespect for education and progress through education. Science is just a namesake.

What’s another factor that’s causing so much decline in good science?? Well the young and old division for one. The young can never be powerful in science. Their enterprise is directed towards self gratification or to the trash basket. The old is hapless and insecure even if a self proclaiming giant.

And this division sometimes works in union by working together towards the dismay of the ideal and achievable in Indian Science. Otherwise I wouldn’t be a writing a blog here in the first place and wasting my time. This lackadaisical system must be changed if we are to make any true progress.

And those who quote Gandhi Jee’s famed “Be the change that you want” here is my answer “Have you ever seen a highway constructed, its a change that comes up even if you are not a change that you want, cities are built, institutions are built, privatization has happened in this country, why not a change in our mindsets to accept that we can do world class science if we recognize the potential in our youth. Even if our old is not much experienced in the matter of international science they can either lead the way or let the way to be led by the young. Now voting for Rahul Gandhi wouldn’t sound that difficult either, eh??”

So despite of the decline, I am proposing a rebuilding of the nation, a sloganeering in nationalistic tone, for the realization of an ideal scientific progress.

I am in no mood after this to preach the conditions of today’s science in India. But here is what’s not picking its truly desirable place. The current deficit in the progress of the newly built scientific organizations in India. May be I need another blog, another day.

One Comment

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  1. August 25, 2010

    The main reasons for any decline are1. Egoist people holding the power in stead of sharing and caring for knowledge2. System that makes it difficult to encourage innovative work3. Education system that tries to please too many people without understanding essence of education4. Constraining attitude of students and teacher in appreciating each other's good work.

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