Deccan Chronicle

A march to promote science

Deccan Chronicle| P Radhakrishnan

Published on: August 8, 2017 | Updated on: August 9, 2017

Along with other state capitals, India March for Science in Kerala will be held in Thiruvananthapuram on August 9.

People hold placards during the March for Science day in Geneva, Switzerland. Thousands attended the similar rallies in April around the world. 	 AFP

People hold placards during the March for Science day in Geneva, Switzerland. Thousands attended the similar rallies in April around the world. AFP

On April 22, 2017, 1 million people in 600 cities all over the world lined up for what was known as the "March for Science". The participants included top scientists as well as science-enthusiasts. They all called for intensive promotion of science, increased support from Governments and resistance against incursion of non-scientific notions among the public. Along similar lines, on August 9, the scientific community in India, comprising scientists and science-enthusiasts, is organising "India March for Science" in the state capitals including Thiruvananthapuram.  Art, literature, philosophy and science — these are all uniquely human pursuits. Each plays its significant role in human civilization; each serves its own purpose in our lives.

Science decodes nature. It studies nature in order to unravel its mysteries — both in the inanimate or animate realms. In the course of history, it has corrected us from mistaken notions, born out of vanity and self-love, about ourselves and our standing in relation to the universe. It hurt our pride when science taught us that 
(1) the sun, rather than the earth, is the center of the Solar System; and 
(2) man descended from the animal kingdom. These revolutionary concepts shook the world not very long ago. Likewise, recent findings in genetics tell us that there is no scientific basis for racial superiority or inferiority among human kind. Acceptance of a new idea that runs counter to revealed or established notions, mostly supported by religious or sometimes political institutions, has not been easy. The process of acceptance is often a painful process taking decades or even centuries.

It is noteworthy that revolutionary upheavals take place within science, too. Relativity and Quantum Physics are examples for breaking free from former dogma. Thus the hallmark of science is that it has no finality, immutability and infallibility. It is always provisional and eternally subject to verification and re-verification. Though some may interpret this as the weakness of science, that is actually its strength; that is why science continually advancing and not standing still. This takes us to ‘Scientific Temper’, a term dear to Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. It represents an attitude, not merely the application of science. This bent of mind guides us to truth and knowledge.  By the way, scientific temper is not confined to science alone; it is eminently applicable to many situations outside science.  Scientific temper stops us from accepting anything without testing and prompts us to give up previous conclusions in the face of new evidence. One should rely only on observed facts rather than any pre-conceived theory. Acquiring such an open mind demands hard disciplining of the mind.

It is worthwhile to note here that the Constitution of India stipulates among the Duties of Citizens [Article 51 A (h)] the need "to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform". Ideally scientific temper should serve to eradicate intolerance, credulity, superstition and irrationality — all too common in the society. Indian scientists have been significantly taking part in the investigations on gravitational waves, planetary atmospheres, fundamental particles and the like. Yet there is a general decline in the government support in funding to the research institutions engaged in higher learning and research in the country. 

They have been asked to raise part of the revenue from marketing the results of their research in science and technology. It is not the case that developments in the laboratories would find an immediate market outside.  There are numerous instances in history where scientific findings or technological developments have taken many decades before attracting attention of market. Regrettably, besides such financial curbs, there are attempts to give scientific color to non-scientific ideas in educational policies. None of these augurs well for the India that we wish to become in the near future.

A renowned scientist, the late Dr. P.M. Bhargawa was of the view that every year we lose in basic scientific research in the country would set us back in the international scene at least by two decades.
These circumstances have prompted the "India March for Science" to make the following demands:
Allocate 3% and 10% of GDP, respectively for research in Science & Technology, and Education
Implement scrupulously the Article 51 A (h) of the Constitution that urges the citizens "to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform".
Ensure that only scientifically established facts are propagated through educational institutions.
Formulate government policies based on methodically established facts. 

(The writer is former Dy. Director of LPSC/ISRO and chairman, organizing committee, India March for Science)

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