Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adventurism and Irreverence

Abi writes about Mashelkar's article on irreverence. So does Balaram, who writes,

Success  will  undoubtedly need more than irreverence. It will need professionalism, a  clear  understanding  of  the  virtues  of  collaboration  and cooperation and an honest and rational system of measuring  and  assessing  performance.  It  will  also  require  commitment,  enthusiasm   and   resilience.  
The key, in my opinion, is the lack of an honest and rational system of measuring and assessing performance. In addition, it is the lack of a critical mass of scientists and researchers, as discussed later.

A recent article in Current Science discussed on scientometrics, cricket and Wisden. The author criticizes the administration for the lack of leadership qualities, spells the name one of the greatest batsmen of our times, V.V. S. Laxman, wrongly several times in the article and concludes that the bane of Indian science lies in the use of scientometrics and the lack of leadership.

Cricket is the not the correct sport to be compared with science. The number of people who play cricket in India is much higher than the number of people who play cricket, say, in New Zealand. Thus, if India performs better than New Zealand in cricket, then one is not surprised. Maybe we should compare tennis with science. Except for an occasional star or two at the world level, and with no singles winner at any Grand Slam event, it is similar to Indian science. The lack of winners have not led to people not playing tennis and if there is an occasional Grand slam winner, he/she will be an outlier and not the norm. To produce Grand slam winners (or  Noble prize winners) consistently, requires effort, investment and commitment not just irreverence or leadership.

The number of scientists in India is much smaller than the number of scientists in China or USA. So is the GDP alloted for research. Thus, the output of researchers will be proportionately smaller. For example, India produces 650 engineering Ph.Ds per year; the number of Indians getting engineering Ph.D's from USA alone is higher than this. To determine how India is performing compared to the world, one has to provide normalize this activity with size. Such an article has been recently written by Dr. Gangan Prathap, who concludes by saying the following,
For  India  to  reach this  league,  not  only  must  it  increase  its investment  by  30–50  times but  its  number of R and D workers by 30–80 times. 

Unless this is done along with an  honest and rational system of measuring and assessing performance coupled with an "assured" decent job for an average scientist, India's S&T will never become a leader.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree with you. The critical mass of scientists have to be increased. But for that good leadership is required who can fight for better salaries and a better administrative system.

Surprising that a person who criticizes the system so much is unable to spell Laxman correctly !

Anonymous said...

Of these 650 how many are from QIP program and publish only while doing a PhD? I guess a significant number of the QIP PhDs cannot be counted as researchers as their PhD is usually a paper weight required for accreditation purposes.

Anonymous said...

Some of the problems mentioned in the current science articles are of international nature. The best thing I have read on this issue is an editorial by ACS Nano associate editor Kotov. Below is the link


VA said...

Thanks for the post Prof. Madras. I am a PhD student myself at a top university in US. I have thought a lot about this issue and I guess I have an answer (not solution) for all our woes.
Answer part 1: Our obsession with everything foreign. Unfortunately this will only end when we will become a truly developed country. Until then everyone will migrate to US or to Europe to do a PhD.
Answer part 2: We donot have a culture of innovation in India. People are not encouraged to take risk. By risk I mean spending the next 6-7 years of your life in graduate school and getting a PhD. People are satisfied with less. I think this mindset is changing and I am pretty much sure that in next 2 decades or so, we will see see more PhDs coming out of India.

Dr. Gururaja K V said...

Much better if science in India is compared with Chess! Only one world champion we have, Vishy Anand and so does noble prize winner, Sir. CV Raman (in fact, only one noble in science from India and entirely our own person!!). Despite having so many Grand Masters (with higher FIDE rating, equivalent to impact factors/h index etc) and International Masters, why we lag so much in having one more world champion! To me the answer is at two levels, one is the individual and other the institutional and/or governmental (which is already discussed).

Individually we perform well (galli ka sher) and without much international exposure, we are always satisfied with what we did and do (lay back over the legacy) and fall into comfort zone. The time at which we need to peak, we start having 'over the hill' syndrome and to aggravate we 'miss'-prioritize in life and put blame on society.

Giri@iisc said...

Gururaj: Thanks for your comments.

Being a chess player myself (I have played against Anand in 1983 junior semis), this comparison came to my mind. But India has several grandmasters, in fact 18 in a list of 1328 grandmasters in the world.

An equivalent to this (based on number of scientists) is h-index of 60. How many Indians have that h-index? CNR Rao and, well, that's it.

Anon@11.57 PM:

The number of QIP scholars is around 60 per year but many QIP Ph.D go on to do excellent research in their own institution after graduation.

Anonymous said...

I do not think that blaming the government for not spending enough money on R&D is going to do any good for science in India. I even don't think it is lack of innovation or scientific skills for not having an high H-index among Indian scientists. The love towards anything foreign is not limited to Indians but is every where.
I am not an expert to suggest any solutions to increase the scientific output in India, for one, I think it is in the right direction. But I sincerely feel that we need to work on our primary education a lot more than we try to improve our higher education by having newer IITs and IISERs. Currently I am not in India to exactly know what is happening there, but my guess is that India (central gov.) is spending lot of money in establishing these higher education institutes and neglecting the primary education. I don't think State Gov.'s are doing enough to give quality education at the high school level. One important factor in anyone choosing scientific career is the impact their high-school teachers have on them, so I strongly feel that we need to have quality teachers at the high-school level and good research oriented programs for these school children to develop their interest in Science and it should not be limited to cities and Metropolis.
Thank you

Anonymous said...

To Rp,
I have to respectfully disagree with you on the notion that having a better primary education is the way towards improving quality scientific output in India. Even though I agree that primary education is important from a general education point of view, it is not an indicator of whether a student pursues a scientific career or otherwise. On the contrary, I think that the primary education in general in India is good or even better than the US or even the UK (the two countries I am very familiar with). Having said that, I acknowledge that the balance between practical vs theoretical knowledge during Indian schooling is debatable.

When it comes to original scientific research, the influencing factors are many. Both internal and external to the country. However, the main issues, at least in my view, that drive research at the forefront are funding, freedom in using those funds and accountability for both. I might sound capitalistic by saying so. If we look back into the history of science, most of the brilliant minds were either rich themselves or were backed by very rich people who were passionate about science. Of course, there are always exceptions to a general trend. The reason why more Indians graduate with PhD's in the US than in India is simply because "life", in general, is "better" in the US, and that the sheer number of universities that offer Ph.D programs is much higher than in India. It is hard to blame one person or one organization for the current situation. But I believe that the country is on the right track, as you said, and will be on par with other developed countries in terms of the scientific research in a few decades' time or may be a century. May be one day, India will see at least some of its past glory as the destination for scientific and philosophical knowledge in the world.

Another issue is a shift in the mind set of Indians in general. We have to stop leaving the so called "virtues" to others and practice them overselves. For example, we all respect teachers, but no one wants to become one unless they do not get a job in a MNC.

Finally, I believe that establishing new institutes, funding and nurturing them using the wisdom learned from past mistakes, while improving the infrastructure and conditions at the existing institutes is the right way forward.

It is indeed a shame that some people get away with blaming the leadership while being leaders themselves. I guess that's the management side of them talking.


Anonymous said...

To K-

"On the contrary, I think that the primary education in general in India is good or even better than the US or even the UK (the two countries I am very familiar with)."

Ohh.. really!

The best primary schools in rural india have 3 teahcers for 7 class rooms if class room building exists!

Anonymous said...

The number of people who pursue higher education (i.e., after school) is leass than 7%. Prof. Giridhar has written in detail about this in previous posts.

Quality teachers are lacking everywhere: engineering colleges etc, primary and secondary schools in villages etc.

As Prof. Giridhar has written on higher education, in case of primary and secondary schools in villages and towns, 1-2 teachers are responsible for 5-6 classes and take 8 hours of teaching per day. In urban sector, of course, post graduates teach school children.

However, in many private engineering colleges, teachers are mainly graduates with a poor record. Thus the quality of higher education even in the urban sector is bad.

The key is salary and benefits to teachers. Unless these are attractive, no one will turn up.

RandomGuy said...

Well both K and anon@13May 7:07 are right in different perspectives.. K is, I guess, talking about the good managed schools (The KV's NV's and host of good private schools) while anon is looking at the majority of primary schools which are indeed in shambles...

The real change (akin to the critical mass) will come about when each of the school achieves a high standard of teaching and has funds to sustain that.

But in reality thats never going to happen in near future. Their is some change on its way though. The RTE stipulates some guidelines with regard to Teacher Student ratio and the minimum facilities in School. So if the Act gets implemented in spirit even in half the primary schools we are going to get the critical mass of students interested in pursuing Science and Technology (not those who just write entrance exams because of no other go. I am talking about a critical mass of really curious students).

As far as higher education is concerned, the new institutes are really a good way forward and as someone has already mentioned, if it learns from the past mistakes then the new IITs, IISERs are going to help a lot in increasing the scientific and technical capabilities of the nation.

Anonymous said...


Well, I talked about the primary school I studied at (which did not have a building until I passed out) and that school is in the district headquarter. That place was lucky to get good MLA who made some improvement in the infrastructure of the schools in that town.
I also talked about the schools in a small village where my father is/was a teacher.
My school had a drop out rate of 85% (4 out of 25 students went to college). I could even go to IIT only because of my family and the teachers who guided me at the right time. I never went for any tuition class except during 9th and 10th standard to improve my english. Some of my teachers offered free/ or much reduced fee for the preparation for JEE.

So, at least I know a solution to the big problem, but it requires many hands.

Anonymous said...

To anon @13May 7:07,
An in-depth comparison of the primary education in India with other countries can be a whole another topic in itself. In the current context, I was comparing the primary education that a middle-class family in India can provide to its children and a similar situation in the west. This is what I’m taking as a bench mark for comparison. There are always best and worst cases in all the countries one can name. I agree with you that there are schools in India (mostly rural and government-managed) that desperately need more teachers and better buildings that do not collapse. While the primary education of millions of children suffers due to such circumstances, there are a million other children who get decent primary education "on par" with the ones in the western world. They may not be using laptops and internet from the age of 6 or 7 but they sure can compete. Now, I ask myself. How may of these children grow up to become scientists and professors? (I myself come from a school in a small town in AP, India, where the facilities were good enough for Indian standards.) I am a researcher now in a top university in the west and also just applied to IIT’s for AP positions. I know a few other people who came from such backgrounds to become researchers and professors, some in India but mostly in the west. So, what happened to the rest of my classmates? Some took lucrative jobs and some did not even manage to graduate high school. A whole lot of children might have graduated in India at the same time as I did. But, I bet the percentage of these graduates who took up scientific careers in India is way less when compared to the same graduating class, say, in the US, who took such careers in their own country. Why?

Here is what I think happened, most of such children who made it through the university come from families that are middle-class according to Indian standards. Now, they don’t want to remain that way, but become middle-class according to western standards. They want to drive modern cars and use fancy phones, they want to taste international cuisine and wear branded clothes, and have vacations to foreign and exotic locations. It’s not their fault to think that way. It’s only human and natural to strive to “improve” ones life as per the current norms of the known world. The society pressure on graduates does not help either. I would assume that, among those people who took that route to happiness, there are at least a few who would choose a different one, say, a scientific one, if the conditions were better in our universities in India. I commend those researchers in India, who, despite all the difficulties that our system poses, achieve what they do.

And there is the question of the role played by private sector in scientific activities. Again, that is an entire subject in itself. In essence, what I want to say is: while improving the primary education system in India is mandatory to improve the overall literacy rate, the way forward in attaining higher scientific output is by building new teaching AND research based institutes, constantly improving the old ones, funding both of them appropriately using public and private resources, and of course, the freedom and accountability in using those funds.


Anonymous said...

This is to add few more points to my above point.

High schools are too in shambles. My high school had already lost the glory days when I was a student there about 10 years ago and now it is no more producing hockey players like Dilip Tirkey. Actually the sports hostel was closed due to some political reason. I think you can understand the reason of my sarcasm in my comment to Ks' post.

Anonymous said...

@K May 13, 2010 6:11 PM

I respect your views.

"there are a million other children who get decent primary education "on par" with the ones in the western world."
I have not seen a single school in India (or probably I have not explored enough) which match the extracurricular activities provided by the schools located in the most rural part of JAPAN. I do not want to compare this to the situation in India.

"So, what happened to the rest of my classmates? Some took lucrative jobs and some did not even manage to graduate high school."

At least, you and your class mates had the privilege to go to schools and make your own decision.

"In essence, what I want to say is: while improving the primary education system in India is mandatory to improve the overall literacy rate, the way forward in attaining higher scientific output is by building new teaching AND research based institutes..."

I agree with you. But if there is no improvement at primary school level, then "resourceless" people will join those newly created/ established institutes to earn their livings.

NB- what I mean by "Resource" is the intelligence to do research and the ability to create awareness among people about their research/teaching.

Anonymous said...

I am really sorry for all my posts. I understand that behavior of any organism is a product of complex interaction of the genes and the environment. I think people know what should be done for the overall improvement of the society.
I could not resist posting my comments due to the a comment by K.
"On the contrary, I think that the primary education in general in India is good or even better than the US or even the UK (the two countries I am very familiar with)."

Actually, you can compare this situation with the reaction of Indian researchers to Mashelker's article.

Mashelkar's article may be applicable to many labs with good infrastructure (probably many csir/dbt/dst labs) but not applicable to most institutes and universities.

Anonymous said...

Dear All,

My children attend good public elementary schools in US and hopefully will continue to have a good education after we R2I. However, all people that post here are somehow "privileged". We all can help our children throughout their schooling. How about the children living deep in rural India? Don't they also have the right to learn more about science, geography, history, etc?

In my opinion, the path for the success of a nation (not for an high h-index) is how well it will be able to educate its population. Hopefully, even our small contribution at the top of the pyramid, i.e., post graduate education, will contribute to raise India as a more egalitarian and prosperous nation. But let's not raise our roles higher than they really are. Primary education teachers are still the best assets for a country to function as a whole.


Anonymous said...

@K and other comments on Primary Education:
My whole point was to bring up the discussion of primary education in rural India (not the one in urban areas). I think it will be interesting if the faculty/institutes (the higher education ones) can come up with some sort of summer camps in these rural areas to invoke the genius in these children, I bet we will see more kids being drawn towards scientific research. For one, I strongly feel that the scientific mind set should be developed way early in life (say from 8th grade onwards). More often than not, we emphasize kids to focus on JEE or EAMCET for getting in to Engg or medical schools but never look at Ph.D. as a good career option (at least that is the perception).
And also, the economic burden that comes along with pursuing a PhD should also be looked into. For example, if you spend few hard years in earning an MBA from say IIMA and a lot more harder years getting a PhD from IISc, who is going to be better off (economically) at the end of the day.
I think pursuing science is purely self-driven than anything else, and for this to happen one has to have/develop that inclination very early in their life, which leads to my point that we need to put more emphasis on our primary education along with improving higher education.

As far as USA, UK, and Japan , and other countries are concerned, I think one needs to take a look at their respective populations into account. For example, in US atleast, you hardly see people (US citizens) pursuing PhD, since it is not that lucrative.
Thank you

Giri@iisc said...

"I think it will be interesting if the faculty/institutes (the higher education ones) can come up with some sort of summer camps in these rural areas to invoke the genius in these children, "

IISc faculty regularly conduct classes for 8-12 standard students in semi-urban areas in Karnataka. Also, they teach several hundred school teachers every year in Bangalore.

This is called the Extension Lecture Program in Indian Institute of Science. IF you run the above keyword in google, you will get the details.

Many of colleagues in the science departments actively participate in the program.

Funding is by the government of Karnataka and IISc.

This is just for information.


Anonymous said...

Prof. Madras,
Thank you very much for the information. Please do pardon my ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Prof Giri, I read this post and the comments for the first time today. Following your suggestion I googled for extension lecture and indian institute of science. It throwed up some pdf files which did not open (requested url could not be retrieved). The only other relevant google result seemed to be something on the ISEC website called Karnataka Rajyotsava extension lecture series which listed speakers from IISC talking about value of science and future of science -- certainly didn't sound like reaching out to rural kids! Could you point out the appropriate links please?

Giri@iisc said...

I am sorry that the pdf files did not open. Maybe there is a problem with the server. the classes are held through CCE (center of continuing education).

The karnataka rajostva extension lectures have nothing to do with this. they are meant to popularize science among urban kids.