Scientists hurt by change in attitudes, policies
Deccan Chronicle | DC Correspondent
Many in government-run science institutions have had to spend money from their own pockets to complete their research because of the cut in funds.
Supporters of science and research prepare to hand out leaflets as part of the March for Science protest in Sydney.
Thiruvananthapuram: The researchers in science have started feeling the pinch of changed attitude and policies towards science and technology. Many in government-run science institutions have had to spend money from their own pockets to complete their research because of the cut in funds. One of them, T.M. Lakshmykant, a PhD scholar at CSIR-NIIST, had to save his stipend to travel to Eindhoven Technical University, Netherlands, for research. He submitted his thesis on Monday, seven years after work on it started. "We were working on an Indo-European Collaborative Large Cells Project to transfer knowledge from Europe. The project cost was Rs 5 crore. In the beginning, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) had released Rs 3 crore. But after 2013, we received no money. If the funds were sufficient, we could have set up a lab and conducted more experiments at international standards. Moreover, the work would have finished on time" he says.
What worries him most is that India will fall behind in scientific research. Especially as China has been investing in his field of identifying organic dyes that would help make efficient and cost-effective solar cells, also called plastic solar cells. "Right now, they may not have any viable results which would be of interest to the industry, but success comes to those who are trying. While India suffers from fund crunches, China is advancing and could become world leaders in the field," he says. However, funds are just one of the many issues in the changed atmosphere, says Resmi Lekshmi, associate professor, Indian Institute of Science and Technology. "There is a climate of growing intolerance in the country. We are hearing about many instances of mob violence. Even ministers have been saying things with no scientific basis. Such thinking could enter textbooks and corrupt the future generations. It is an alarming situation. We have to support evidence-based thought," she says.
Deepshikha Jaiswal, assistant professor, school of physics, IISER Thiruvananthapuram, shares similar anxieties. "I feel we, as a country, are going backward, not forward, as far as scientific temper is concerned. We might for a while be under the belief that better technology has made us aware of the already existing unscientific beliefs. However, I feel we are regressing," she says. She has examples of good friends who studied science with her now spending money on 'Shanidevta.' "There are new rituals. For example, in North India we have been celebrating 'rakshabandhan'. Earlier, we would just wake up, tie rakhi and have fun, but of late people talk about a 'muhurath,' an auspicious time, at which the rakhi needs to be tied. When I ask why it is auspicious, no one has any clue. These days there is a lot of insecurity and fear and superstitions feed on it," she says. These are the reasons why scientists across the country will join the 'March for Science' on August 9.