Saturday, October 1, 2022

Our leaders and their scientific temper!

Persons known for scientific temper: Nehru, Dr Pushpa Bhargava

There are some interesting statements from political leaders that shock the scientists and rational thinkers. Rajasthan education minister Vasudev Devnani in 2017claimed that cow dung would ward off radioactivity, and that being near the animals prevents colds and coughs. One paper presented in Indian Science Congress in Mumbai in 2015, claimed that around 7,000 years ago, people on the subcontinent possessed aeroplanes capable of interplanetary travel and that this was documented in religious texts and poetry. They give example of Ravana’s Pushpaka Vimanam. They claim Sanjay made a running commentary about Kurukshetra War using internet, and that test tube baby technique was used to cut fetus of Gandhari into pieces, which were put in earthen pots to develop 100 Kaurava brothers and one sister. But what exactly the technology that was used is not explained.

Evolution

In a joint publication with Alfred Russel Wallace, Charles Darwin proposed that all species of life have descended from common ancestors was widely accepted and considered a fundamental concept in science.  Darwin became one of the most influential figures in human history. He got a rare honor of burial in Westminster Abbey.

Minister of state for human-resource development, Satyapal Singh, said in the beginning of 2021 that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was wrong because no one had actually seen humans evolve from ape-like ancestors. Then Cabinet Minister Prakash Javadekar, immediately rejected this statement in the press. The thousands of Indian scientists circulated an online petition asking the junior minister to retract his comments.

“A society with a scientific temper is always on the path of development,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But a day earlier, Bharatiya Janata Party Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh claimed that Indian cow milk contained gold.

Cow dung, corona and abuse of law

Manipur Police arrested journalist Kishor Chandra Wangkhem and activist Erendro Leichombam under the National Security Act (NSA) because they wrote in their social media posts about scientific treatment to corona patients. They paid condolences to state BJP chief S Tikendra Singh, following his demise due to COVID-19 and wrote that cow dung or cow urine was no cure for COVID-19. In his Facebook post, Wangkhem wrote: “Santhi Sanyungnayadrabo, oh!!! RIP #Rashikang_KangyetHayengngachaani.” This means: “Cow dung [and] cow urine didn’t work. Groundless argument. Tomorrow, I will eat fish’.

Leichombamwrote in his post that cow dung and urine were not a cure for the coronavirus, the cure is science & common sense and expressed condolences at the death of the BJP leader. https://scroll.in/latest/995144/manipur-activist-and-journalist-charged-with-nsa-for-facebook-posts-on-state-bjp-chiefs-death

Pride in the past: do something now

Generally, we take pride in the past. But we have to understand the present and find scientific solutions to our problems.  We have a right to celebratea great 5th century mathematician from ancient India’s Nalanda University, Aryabhatta, but what about the poor in the Gangetic plains who have survive on arsenic-free drinking water. Similarly, Sushruta of the 6th century BCE was indeed a great physician of antiquity, but are we capable of eliminating fluorosis in Nalgonda and kala-azar in Bihar or filariasis in some of  the villages in south India. Two millennia-old Charaka Samhita or the Jantar Mantars of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, science and technology were embedded in the larger fabric of India much before Independence.  During colonial rule, science and research were not on the agenda of Britishers. But some universities came up. J.N. Tata and the Regent Queen of Mysore laid the ground for the founding of the IISc in 1909.  After independence 32 new educational and scientific establishments were set up in 15 years that served as model institutions. Internationally recognised Indian scientists K.S. Krishnan, C.V. Raman and others contributed in significant way to science and research. In independent India, the move from competitive individualism to institution building was supported by the government and its policies. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/scientific-temper-as-key/article35910561.ece (15th August 2021)

We did march into space and nuclear programs, which are widely welcomed. In the fields of mathematics and chemistry, some individuals persuaded the government to invest in institutions and got support outside of the bureaucracy. Such an effort should be continued.

There is no point in mixing religion and science, instead, we should regard scientists as modern-day sages and gurus. They are rishis of this age, to whom the society is indebted. We have to rediscover our fundamental duty towards “the scientific temper” and to foster ideology-free science in the true spirit of inquiry and reform.

Pandemic taught science lessons

Corona Pandemic was an opportunity to communicate the value of science and counter the challenges brought about by complete lack of scientific temper. Most of us did not use this opportunity. We still believed in unproven methods of treatment. Public authorities spoke about paracetamol as a solution to Covid-19, when WHO and whole world was struggling to find treatment for this peculiar virus.

Sad incidents

There are a few sad incidents happened because of illogical and unfounded blind beliefs. In Kerala’s Idukki, a man killed four members of his family expecting to gain divine powers. In Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, a couple killed their six-year-old daughter who had rickets after a self-claimed godman made them to believe that this would ensure that their next child would be healthy.

In Tamil Nadu’s Tiruppur, a woman died in childbirth because her husband did not trust doctors and decided to deliver their baby himself, following YouTube videos.

 “I am Shiva. My body gave birth to corona. It will end in March without the use of the vaccine. There is no need for a vaccine… I have halahal (venom) in my throat. No need to test me for coronavirus,” Padmaja, a postgraduate in mathematics who worked at an IIT coaching institute, said.

A couple killed their two daughters (Alekhya 27, Sai Divya 22) on Jan 24, 2021, in Madanapalle, Chittoor district in AP, with dumbbells. End of Kaliyuga and beginning of Satya yuga on Jan 25 was their blind belife. Vice Principal Purushottam and wife Padmaja killed believing that they will come alive next day. They will change the world after their reincarnation.

Science as solution

India with 130 crores of population, needs Science and the scientific temper to assure better living standards. We are a country constrained by resources, particularly energy, and we are part of the world staring at the devastating impacts of climate change. Some of the disastrous examples are bushfires in Australia, floods in Indonesia and unseasonal frost in India, which are likely to get more intense in the coming decades. 

Application of mind – science funding

The mankind has to look only to science and the application of the mind for solutions to pursue inclusive development. Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan underscored the need for both a spirit of inquiry and for science to spread through large and small collaborations.

“I think science flourishes when there is real freedom of thought and opinion and minimum ideological interference,” he said. His advice for India is to separate the government from the science establishment, and to distance science funding from politics.

Another Noble Laureate of Indian origin, Amartya Sen, spoke about how “friendship begets science”. He said that divisions between groups and sects and between countries act as barriers to scientific and intellectual progress within and across nations.

(Today, the anniversary of Narendra Dhabholkar, is observed as National Scientific Temper Day)

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.

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