Scientists take to streets to protest unscientific claims, demand more funds
Indian scientists and scholars took to the streets on Saturday demanding better funding and a more conducive environment for scientific research in the country, and to show solidarity with demonstrations across the world under the banner of “March for Science”.
The demonstrators also decried the unscientific statements made by Indian leaders, such as junior human resource development minister, Satyapal Singh and science and technology minister, Harsh Vardhan.
“There is an assault on scientific research and science under this government,” Raghu Nandan (66), member of Delhi Science Forum who took part in a march in the capital, said. “From smart cities to bullet trains and development projects, there is no scientific input.”
Demonstrations were planned in over 35 Indian cities and 600 cities globally.
The organisers demanded that funds for research and development in India, that remains a paltry 0.8% of the GDP, be ramped up to at least 3% of the GDP and for education to 6%. They also raised concerns about education material being manipulated to suit ideologies.
The Delhi march saw the congregation of 200 participants from IITs, Delhi University, JNU, Ambedkar University and Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and several associations working to promote scientific temperament.
Singh had invited controversy earlier this year when he suggested that India’s mantras codified the laws of motion before Newton.
“They make it seem like everything was discovered in the olden ages. It discourages research and hampers the development of a scientific temper,” Nandan said.
He also lamented the promotion of pseudoscience by the current administration, including the push for research on cow urine.
Last year, Singh termed Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution ‘scientifically wrong’. His comments on Darwin were roundly criticised by Indian scientists.
Science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan sparked a stir at the India Science Congress in March suggesting that renowned astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking thought Vedic theories were superior to Einstein’s famous formulation: e=mc2.
Parag Banerjee (31), a doctoral student at JNU in labour studies and an engineer by training, said that the problem was not limited to leaders making “nonsensical statements”.
“Earlier there was more freedom to choose your research topics. More students are doing projects that are in line with private companies’ agenda,” he said. “Only those fields were immediately converted to industrial goods. This is true of government funds. They are heavily lobbied by private interests.”