Science Congress: a circus of clowns

People hold placards to protest against claims made by speakers, discrediting theories of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, at the 106th Indian Science Congress in Kolkata. REUTERS

The sharp deterioration in the quality of scientific work presented at the Indian Science Congress (ISC) in recent years is alarming. At the just-concluded 106th ISC in Jalandhar, at least two speakers sought to peddle mythology as scientific fact. G N Rao, Vice Chancellor of Andhra University and a bio-chemistry professor to boot, gave his own ‘scientific’ spin to the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Kauravas of Mahabharata were born through stem-cell and in-vitro fertilisation technology; while Ravana of Ramayana had 24 types of aircraft and a network of airports in Sri Lanka; and if that were not enough, guided missile technology was known to Indians in ancient times. Another speaker at the same session, KJ Krishnan, apparently an engineer who claims to have been the source of union minister for science and technology Harsh Vardhan’s funny views on science, dismissed the work of Issac Newton and Albert Einstein and claimed he had disproved their theories and would soon rename ‘gravitational waves’ as ‘Narendra Modi waves’ and the Gravitational Lensing effect as ‘Harsh Vardhan effect’. There is little doubt how such individuals have been getting the chance to speak at the Science Congress in the past four years. It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who set the ball rolling in October 2014 when he grandly claimed that ancient Indians had pioneered reconstructive surgery by citing the example of the god Ganesha’s elephant head on human body. Since then, assorted ‘scientists’, judges and ministers have held forth on ancient India’s scientific prowess, all in attempts to please Modi and the Sangh Parivar.

The Indian Science Congress is meant to provide a platform for members of the scientific community to put forward their research findings and share their insights with other scientists. However, under the Modi government, the ISC has become a platform for pseudo-scientists, prompting Nobel laureate Venkataramanan Ramakrishnan to call the annual meet a “circus”. Can the organisers of the Science Congress explain how speakers are chosen for the meet? It is not as if the country has a dearth of genuine scientists who are doing important work to advance world science. Drawing attention to the dangers of pseudoscience making its way into policy, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India K Vijay Raghavan has called for a formal complaint to be lodged against speakers such as the VC of Andhra University for saying something “scientifically untenable,” and urged the country’s science establishments to raise their voices.

Developing a scientific temper was a priority for India’s founding fathers, especially Jawaharlal Nehru. Consequently, the Constitution lists this as a duty of every citizen. But perhaps for that reason, under the Modi government, we see the very idea being destroyed.

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Science Congress: a circus of clowns

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