Don’t gloat over past achievements in science

The Nobel Prize for Physics this year has been accompanied by much fanfare. For India, however, the fact of Indian institutes and scientists being involved in the CERN project has been dulled by the supposed snub to Satyendra Nath Bose.

Since the announcement of the Higgs boson’s experimental verification by CERN, India has not taken kindly to the fact that Bose, in whose honour a class of sub-atomic particles are named, was not mentioned in the international media or by the Nobel committee. This lament is both short-sighted and hypocritical. While it is true that the nature of western science is exclusive, this isn’t the reason for the poor state of Indian science.

SN Bose was a brilliant student who went from the relative ignominy of a non-permanent position at the University of Dhaka to a leading name in physics communities worldwide. What Bose achieved, he did so in spite of a system providing him scant infrastructure and no support.

Unfortunately, much hasn’t changed. Our universities, stretched for resources and quality faculty, continue to impart outdated education through out-of-touch pedagogy. A few institutions stand out as islands among the general morass that is science education.

As long as we continue to focus on disjointed goals like a Nobel Prize instead of correcting the system, individual geniuses like Bose or CV Raman will continue to obscure the true state of science education that doesn’t inculcate a basic inclination for science among students.

China has increased science spending around 40 times between 1985 and 2010 while India managed only around six times. Our premier science event, the Indian Science Congress, is fading into oblivion.

Bose was a luminary, one who was short changed by the cultural practices that fester within science in the West. However, even culturally, his home state of Bengal doesn’t accord him the same celebrity status it has reserved for, say, Rabindranath Tagore or even Sourav Ganguly.

It is certainly an easier task to complain that Indians don’t get enough credit from the West. We would do better to take a leaf out of Bose’s book; he never cared for such accolades. Far more beneficial for science in India would be to look at ourselves and wonder why we have to go back 89 years (since Bose presented his seminal paper) to make ourselves feel relevant in the world of science.

The views expressed by the author are personal


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