The Decline Of Scientific Temper In India

The Decline Of Scientific Temper In India

A few weeks back I watched a talk-show on NDTV about the decline of scientific temper in India. It was reported that scientists from institutions across the country were planning to take a march in twenty six cities urging the government of India to increase funds allocated to scientific research. Additionally the scientists were also protesting against the propagation of unscientific beliefs and religious intolerance in the nation.The phenomenon of decline in scientific temper is not something restricted to India. Even in the US the Trump administration has significantly cut down on the resources allocated to scientific research and development.

But fortunately in the US, there is a lot of scientific research going on, funded by private enterprises. Tech giants like Microsoft and Google have their own branches for research and development. In India private funding for scientific research is very marginal. This means that research is heavily dependent on government funding. Being an engineer myself I was appalled to hear about the woes of the scientists of our country.

Another major problem in India is the rampant superstition and unscientific beliefs of the people. What is appalling is the current regime’s efforts to try and appropriate every major scientific break-through as something that originated in India. Our netas make wild claims. One minister says the Pythagoras theorem was discovered in India much earlier than in the west while another claims that the Aeroplane was invented by a person from Maharashtra before the Wright brothers. 

Please do not get me wrong. Ours is a glorious civilization with a great past in every sphere of human activity. But wild claims of the kind: “In ancient India space ships and space travel were a common phenomenon” would only make the world laugh at us. This claim was made in the Indian Science Congress a couple of years ago. Nobel laureates like Venkatraman Ramakrishnan are outspoken in their criticism. When he was asked why he did not attend the Indian Science Congress he openly said “Very little science is discussed in these conferences. No point in wasting time”.

I am not saying India is a novice at science. Aryabhatta taught the world how to count. Our ancient astronomers scaled great heights. In recent times also we have produced greats like Sir C.V Raman, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar and several others. I do not deny the role our literature plays in Science. The fields medal winner Professor Manjul Bhargava attributes his achievements to his expertise in Sanskrit. Here is what he has to say:

“As a child, I enjoyed studying Sanskrit, Sanskrit poetry and Indian classical music. I saw maths in all these things; that further inspired me to pursue mathematics. When I went to college, I took Sanskrit, a lot of music, computer science and physics, and also mathematics. To me, mathematics was the common thread in all these subjects,” 

All I am saying is do not make wild claims and appropriate science as India’s sole domain to the exclusion of the rest of the world. This decline in scientific temper is not restricted to India alone. World over, unscientific beliefs, intolerance and wild claims are on the rise. 

Steven Weinberg a Nobel laureate claims that it is a cyclic process. Times of excellent scientific temper come and go at various periods in history. Ancient Greek and Indian society enjoyed a very good scientific temper. Through the dark ages it was religious dogma that ruled the society. Scientific temper was pretty healthy in Arabia till the end of the ninth century after which there was a steady decline. With the coming of the renaissance and Galileo it was again a golden period for science. 

Weinberg feels the time has come again when we are in the cusp of a long period of decline in scientific temper.  
For those of us who have a rational approach to life and are keenly interested in science nothing could be more appalling than the thought of returning once more to the dark ages when people were pilloried for speaking their mind.  

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