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Nobel laureates say science under attack from fake news, religious views

At the second edition of the Nobel Prize India Series 2018, Nobel laureates said policy makers should be careful about making statements, and that schools must train students to recognise what they read is true or untrue so long as they aware of scientific opinions.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2018 08:48 IST
Snehal Fernandes
Snehal Fernandes
Hindustan Times, Panaji
Nobel Prize India Series 2018,Nobel laureates,Charles Darwin
Goa CM Manohar Parrikar with Nobel laureates during the inauguration of the Nobel Prize Series India 2018 at Kala Academy in Panaji. (HT Photo)

From contentions over Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by Indian politicians to US President Donald Trump’s directions that words such as ‘science-based’ should not be used in official documents, Nobel laureates on Friday said choosing between fact versus fake is a serious problem for science and beyond.

“Science is under attack from fake news and religious viewpoints which is confusing society. Lot of lies are being spread not just about science but also history,” said Serge Haroche, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2012.

“It is difficult to fight against it since these are people who do not believe in scientific rules and principles that govern science. It’s absurd that scientists still have to face this problem in the 21st century,” he said.

At the second edition of the Nobel Prize India Series 2018, Harouche expressed concern about a rising number of people not accepting Darwin’s theory of evolution that has explained many facts about the natural world.

Goa CM Manohar Parrikar addresses the delegates during the inauguration of the Nobel Prize Series India 2018 at Kala Academy in Panaji. (HT Photo)

In India, a controversy arose in January with Union minister Satyapal Singh saying Darwin’s theory is scientifically wrong, and should be removed from the curriculum. Following this, Indian scientists drafted an online petition, which attracted thousands of signatures, asking Singh to retract his statement.

In December, the Trump administration told The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, to avoid seven words — science-based, evidence-based, foetus, vulnerable, entitlement, diversity and transgender — in budget documents.

Nobel laureate Christiane Nusslein-Volhard during the inauguration of the Nobel Prize Series India 2018 at Kala Academy in Panaji. (HT Photo)

Tomas Lindahl, who won the Nobel in chemistry in 2015, said policy makers should be careful about making statements, and that schools must train students to recognise what they read is true or untrue so long as they aware of scientific opinions.

“A lot of people were and continue to be against Darwin’s theory in the 19th century. If Darwinism is not accepted, the value of science is challenged. But in the end, science wins because it is based on facts, and builds knowledge from proof and demonstration,” said Haroche.

Harouche cited the example of Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei whose scientific discovery in the 17th century that the Earth and planets revolved around the sun — and not the other way around as believed by the Roman Catholic Church — was eventually proved right. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologised for persecuting Galileo.

“As we grow older, we are entitled to our opinions, but not entitled to facts. Society has contradictory beliefs, and to find a middle ground is not easy,” said Lindahl. “Therefore the role of teachers in the internet age is very important because they must convey facts that are robust even if they don’t believe in it,” he said.

First Published: Feb 03, 2018 08:18 IST