City scientists seething over absurd claims at big meet

City scientists seething over absurd claims at big meet

They say the process to select speakers at science conferences must be more rigorous

About 50 members of the science fraternity held a protest near the Indian Institute of Science on Sunday.

The science fraternity in Bengaluru is outraged mythology was peddled as science at a major conference earlier this week.

Speakers at the 106th Indian Science Conference, held in Lovely Professional University, Punjab between January 3 and 7 Indian, discredited Einstein and Newton and cited the Kauravas as proof that India pioneered test-tube babies.

Protests against unfounded claims at the conference have taken place in Bengaluru, Kolkata, Kochi, Hyderabad and other cities. On Sunday, about 50 members of the Akhila Karnataka Vicharavadi Sangha (Karnataka Rationalists’ Forum), Breakthrough Science Society and other science organisations sat in protest near the Indian Institute of Science.  

Prof Jayant Murthy, director, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, who took part in the protest, told Metrolife it was baffling to have a vice-chancellor make claims without any scientific basis.

G Nageswara Rao, vice-chancellor of Andhra University and an inorganic chemistry professor, had said at the conference that ancient India had guided missiles and stem cell technology based on the epic Mahabharata.

“If random people made such claims, we wouldn’t be mad because they are free to give opinions, but this comes from a vice-chancellor. He has to be more responsible as he represents academics. I don’t how he could continue as a vice-chancellor with this kind of nonsense,” he opines.

Speakers made a mockery of science, he regrets. “He made the claims while talking to children. It is picked up everywhere, and it shows us in a bad light,” he says. Prof Soumitro Banerjee of physics at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata, says science conferences must promote the advancement of science in India.

Can science engage with mythology?
Scientists say it is not wrong for academics to engage with mythology, but mythology should not be mistaken for science.  For astrophysicist Jayant Murthy, mythology is a subject for historians: “It is not modern science; we can’t learn much of science from mythology.”

What happened at ISC 2019
Kannan Jegathala Krishnan ran down Einstein and Newton and advocated renaming of gravitational waves to ‘Narendra Modi waves’  and the gravitational lensing effect to ‘Harshavardhan effect’. G Nageswara Rao, vice-chancellor of Andhra University, said Kauravas were born due to stem cell and test tube technologies. In the past, the Indian Science Congress has heard claims about the existence of aircraft in ancient India.

What next?
Scientists are planning to escalate their complaints against science conferences making ludicrous claims. Rajani KS, secretary, Breakthrough Science Society, Karnataka questions how speakers are selected for the Indian Science Congress. “They are accountable to the science community and people at large,” she says in a press note. Dr Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific advisor to the prime minister, and Dr Manoj Chakrabarti, General President, Indian Science Congress Association, have also voiced their concerns.

Who’s who
Breakthrough Science Society: Based in Kolkata, it works to promote new science in the country. Its Bengaluru chapter is in Rajajinagar.

The Indian Science Congress Association: A government-supported scientific organisation. Started in 1914, it meets in the first week of January annually.

Akhila Karnataka Vicharavadi Sangha (Karnataka Rationalists’ Forum): It debunks superstition and campaigns for a scientific temper.Its office is in Padmanabhanagar, Bengaluru, and you can join it by calling 080 2669 1927.

Science, as seen by netas

A plastic surgeon must have got an elephant’s head transplanted on the body of Ganesha.
-Narendra Modi, Prime Minister

“The cow is the only animal that inhales and exhales oxygen.”
- Vasudev Devnani, education minister, Rajasthan