Don’t erode the scientific temper| HT Editorial
India celebrates National Science Day every year on February 28. The day marks the discovery of the Raman Effect by the Indian physicist, CV Raman. He was the first Asian to ever win the Nobel Prize for achievements in science (he won for Physics in 1930). The day also recognises the need for instilling a scientific temper and encouraging scientific research . In a country that is mired in all manner of superstition and ritual havans are sometimes organised to placate the heat of the sun, the commemoration of a scientific temper becomes that much more important.
India has also recently seen a spike in the amount of pseudo-science that has found its way into popular discourse. In 2016, Hindu priests performed a yagya (in Tokyo, no less) for the “purification of the environment”. Sitting ministers have denied the theory of evolution on the grounds that no one had seen a monkey turn into a human, members of Parliament have asked people to pat cows in specific ways to reduce blood pressure . Ideas such as aeroplanes had been invented in India during the Vedic period or that the Kauravas in the Mahabharata were test-tube babies — rightly met with ridicule — were aired at the Indian Science Congress by a scientist and university administrator. How far the institution that was once headed by Raman himself has fallen. This sort of erosion of the scientific temper and the inability of the common citizen to tell fact from myth is a dangerous turn, not just for the furthering of Indian science, but for society as well.
It has long been argued that western science has almost always been exported around the world with scant regard for contexts in other parts of the world. The only solution to this is to encourage Indian science at the highest levels. For many years, the Indian scientific community has fought odds — lack of funding, bad infrastructure, and little institutional backing — to make exceptional forward strides in real science, that has been published and recognised through peer review. It is a great pity to undermine all of their hard work by giving prominence to such nonsense. So, as another National Science Day passes, it is time we stopped forwarding social media messages such as those extolling the virtues of cow urine to cure the coronavirus. A scientific temper and rational thinking are as much the responsibility of the individual as it is of the government of the day and its agencies.