Monday, December 26, 2011

India - anti-science ?

The ex-director of IISc, G. PADMANABAN, writes in "The Hindu" and asks whether India is anti-science. He asks,
Is there nothing in this country of substance beyond Bollywood, cricket and politicians? But more seriously, if young minds do not opt for science, where are the role models? .... But unbridled activism against science and scientists will only lead us to miss out on technology options. We need to give S&T a chance to deliver.


But he actually answers (though possibly unintentionally) this when he says,
Each area has become much specialised and older generations, barring some, are not in touch with the developments. But they would not hesitate to make sweeping generalisations.


When the minister asks for a report from the academies on the issue of Bt Brinjal, all he gets is an unreferenced, non-trustworthy report, which does not list the authors or potential conflicts of interest. Further, selections at any level (whether it is recruitment in universities at the assistant professor level or whether it is election to fellowship of academies) are not purely based on merit. If this is the case of Indian science, why should young minds opt for science? 

They obviously do not. When DST announced the INSPIRE fellowship for students who secure top 1% in boards or 10,000 ranks in AIEEE/JEE and pursue science, they were hoping many (10,000 was their target) will take up the fellowship. The results for 2010 indicate only around 45 have taken this fellowship through the competitive exam mode.


When scientists are unable to teach school children the joys of science, are unable to ensure career prospects for science doctorates, ensure transparency in recruitment and selection, if India becomes (or is) anti-science, the blame squarely rests on the scientists.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let me go a bit further here. I think that our societies obsession (for obvious reasons I guess) for engineering (software ?) and medical education does not augur well for our countries present or future.

We have a whole generation whose primary interest is to cram facts and get a job. The more I interact with my past students (and friends) the more I see a complete disconnect with our society with right wing thoughts which would make Republicans in the US proud. The selfishness in thinking is mind blowing to me.

Other than having a more liberal arts education where students are exposed to a world in addition to science, I am not sure what the solution is. Tragically not many of my colleagues seem to care .....

L said...

In high school, we never TEACH science. Students learn a lot of definitions and formulae. The evidence of being 'good in science' is if a child can plug in formulae and solve problems. Never once are they made to feel the excitement of understanding how things work, never discover anything for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely correct !

Even students like us in IISERs are worried about the future..

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PKBang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PKBang said...

Hmmm... but isn't this poor condition at least facilitated, and at many levels caused, by the neglect the greater society gives to science and critical thought?

A part of the problem also lies within our homes and schools and in our general mindset, our society conditions the private individual to view life thourgh glasses of artificial materialism, self-centredness and 'competetion' and the individuals then in turn create such a society:

Parents shamelessly drill crude selfishness and an utterly narrow-minded worldview in their children's head.

Most((definitely not all)) teachers don't care about inculating any postive and critical aspects in the child's thought process, they just want to sheepishly 'complete' the syllabus and get their paychecks. From all I have seen their isn't much difference in this regards among big or small schools.

The result of this in the education sector is that only those students are deemed "good" who can mechanically mug-up and solve 'problems'((because those who are best at this among the vast population we have, are bound to have enough talent required by banking and software corporations)); a super-majority of HS students and graduates((and their parents)) is created who see academics only as a tool for satisfying their, for the sake of blunt honesty, greed, they judge colleges, courses and careers based on *one* thing only: Placements/Salary; there is no societal expectation from 'good' colleges to produce knowledge, all they are required is to put finishing touches to these problem solving machines and bag them fat paychecks.

And all of the above is evident by various phenomenas: Most of the top students in any engg. competetive exam all want the same course; every year during the admission season the media in their guides and reviews priortise only one varible, placements; The virtual heirarchy in schools where top students are expected to take science, 'average' ones to take commerece and the rest arts; the great number of Engineeriing graduates who want to do an MBA without any idea of what it is about; and many other things.

This flawed((highly)) world-view provides its own rationalisation, the ability to ignore the collapse of values with the veil of competeion driven capitalist-consumerist fetishism: Parents are okay with it because their wards are earning 12-15 lacs per year right out of college, most teachers are happy as it makes their job so easy and people in general are happy because it provides "development", i.e., international brands, luxury goods, F1 races and employment in Facebook or Goldman Sachs.

Vikram said...
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Vikram said...

Recruitment of students in sciences like Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics is an issue for American universities as well.

The universities here are trying a variety of strategies to improve enrollments. There are 'Explore the University' days where young children from schools are introduced to science through interesting and intuitive exhibitions/experiments. There are science camps over summer where children are again exposed to science by the university faculty and students. Every Saturday morning, the Mathematics department at my university has an outreach event where a faculty member introduces high school students to interesting topics in math: http://www.math.utexas.edu/users/smmg/

I really think that Indian universities should think about:

1) Allowing students to do graduate engineering programs after doing undergrad in a relevant science

2) Stepping up their outreach efforts in the community.

Ashish Kulkarni said...

How I would reason it: India, at the moment, by and large, is purely a commercially driven society. If the business demands then a little bit of bare minimum science will be done. It is so because since decades, while kids were growing up, most parents (or students themselves) forced Students into crazy 'marks' driven rat race. It's another pity that real geniuses which came out from this, wanted to join 'Soap Marketing' or 'Trading' after graduating from IITs. Exceptional, very few, did some good work. This shows that their wasn't any clarity offered by anybody or opted by these geniuses. They went (with their practical short sight) with the flow. Did not mind to observe where they are actually heading. Was this the way to tackle ? The big questions which came up later in the society did not arise all of a sudden. What was the compensation for students for deep understanding of the Scientific concepts ?..Nothing. Eventually many ran after fat pay packages and purely rejected or didn't find (actually became incapable to recognize) any challenge in the development of basic science. Any change in society
begins at Home. Isn't it ?

Anonymous said...

i pity the state of science/science research in india when people like padmanaban are in charge.

so now showing caution against dangerous BT crops, not knowing the long term effects it could have on human health, the soil, let alone any claims of improved yield/pest resistance, is termed as anti science.

yield can be improved by adopting scientific/organic methods in farming like using millets and promoting biodiversity instead of promoting monocultures.

then the usual rhetoric of bashing ayurveda(without actually studying its efficacy), bashing anti-vaccine campaigns to be anti-science,

bleh

with people like padmanaban around i'm sure very few youngsters will be motivated to do research in science(especially in india)

Anonymous said...

Do not forget Padmanabhan is a paid consultant for Monsanto..does he mention that? NO

conflict of interest??

Anonymous said...

@above

do you have proof of padmanaban being a consultant for monsanto?

if it is true, it is really shocking seeing a scientist funded by the tax payers money getting himself involved with corrupt companies

Anonymous said...

http://sid.iisc.ernet.in/monsanto.html

http://archive.cscs.res.in/MediaArchive/clippings.nsf/(docid)/CF4977DC2C630F506525694200313D78

tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/genekids/message/315

Read the above, note down the dates and look who was the director of iisc at that time.

Anonymous said...

@above

thank you very much for those links. i'm sorry to say this but IISc has become nothing but a blot to the science scene in india, stealing the tax payer's money and giving back basically nothing in return.

Anonymous said...

interesting also to note that why would a public funded university like IISc want to collaborate with a fraud company like monsanto.

i think the people who say that corruption runs in our blood, must be correct :(

Ankur Kulkarni said...

What is the problem with public funded university collaborating with Monsanto, so long as the university is not producing anything that is fraudulent through this collaboration?

Anonymous said...

by that logic, i guess it wouldn't be a problem if iisc started collaborating with the various mafia groups in the world also. i mean the profs wouldn't mind as long as their pockets get filled.

hope you have heard about the various BT cotton related suicides in vidarbha. oh wait a min, farmer suicides have little to do with city folk like us since we have a cushy job and will not be affected by crises like these.

maybe we must switch over completely to GM foods also, even if it gives us cancer and other harmless diseases.

also i hope you are aware of the reputation of monsanto and the criticisms it is facing in the western world

a lot of scientific work can be done as to the choosing of specific crops to protect the soil, use of natural fertilizers, pest repellents, etc.

there is no science in creating mutant plants, animals and releasing them into the fields

PKBang said...
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PKBang said...

@Ankur Kulkarni: I don't have any technical legal knowledge, but in the context of basic ethics, the fault is clear: Persons who are funded by the people shouldn't collaborate with entities which have a thoroughly documented history of cheating local populations, Monsanto is the best example of such an entity. But furthermore when you write an article saying that something is, objectively and beyond doubt, progressive and harmless ((as GM is projected to be by Padmanaban)) you should at least mention that you are or have been paid by a company which manufactures it and stands to make massive profits from it.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

I agree on the conflict of interest charge on Padmanabhan.

But I don't agree with the other logic. Indeed our governments also have a consistent and "thoroughly documented history of cheating local populations". By your logic IISc should not take up government projects.

Research collaboration is not a pooja ritual where only those who are "clean" can be allowed to enter and the rest will be treated as untouchables. Research collaboration has a specific scientific goal and if Monsanto can help in it, I don't think they should be shunned on ethical grounds. Imagine, if I am looking to prove a theorem and I can't figure out the argument, and if a local goon or mafia don knows how to prove it, why should I not collaborate with him? :-)

It is perhaps risky to collaborate with Monsanto, but then it is up to IISc to decide if they want to take the risk. I agree that if the purpose of not collaborating is to make a larger political statement - like India is doing now against Dow sponsorship of Olympics. But then some may want to make a statement, some may not. In this case IISc did not.

Anonymous said...

@ankur

corporations like GE and IBM have been well documented to have links with nazi germany, and also assisted the nazi germany war machine.

but there is nothing wrong if IISc were to collaborate with either of these companies because these companies have also made many goods that have eventually benefited mankind, and also have taken up research in science, developing products, etc

in the case of monsanto, it is nothing but a mafia company that has bullied farmers and local populations/local agricultural practices throughout the globe. IISc collaborating with a company like monsanto is a no-no-no.

also the safety/health issues of GM crops haven't yet properly studied and documented.

Anonymous said...

The main thing here is "conflict of interest"

If you are consulting for the company, if you (as the director of IISc) forced IISc to host the company, you should tell that before you rave for that company.

Simple, if Prof. Giridhar says that Dell computers are the best in the world, he should tell whether he was a consultant for Dell or not. Such revelation is required for medical research

PKBang said...

@Ankur: Haha, but I beg to differ on your analogy, firstly if there is direct monetary gain for the dons *and* it can have grave outcome for a lot of innocent people then I don't think one should take their help, science is important but not more so than humanity.

Not accepting govt. projects involve a lot of other dimensions, some include: it can easily get politicized(( like Digvijay Singh accusing IISc to be an RSS front)), if it involves something other than weapon technology((like say medical research or space research)) then it is not necessary that mantris and netas will gain money from it, also the fruits of the research will((again, except in confidential matters like security, etc.)) be in public domain, etc.

With Monsanto on the other hand they can refuse collaborations without much serious backlash and it is a matter of high ambiguity still as to how much the GM crops may help the local people.

And of course, such a refusal will carry a political statement and I agree that one can't squarely condemn someone for not taking the initiative. But when we think about it, the only measure to publicly deem some act as "wrong" is the legality of it. And it is pretty obvious that perfectly legal actions, that don't make one eligible for condemnation, can may well make one eligible for criticism.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

@PKBang,

I think you made my point yourself. In the same way as you are making a nuanced distinction between doing work that is "benefiting the government" and "benefiting the netas", we should make distinctions between the various kinds of work that Monsanto does too. It is not a part of government policy to be corrupt, nor is it a part of Monsanto policy to be anti people. There may be rotten output coming each organisation, but that alone should not be grounds for not doing projects with them.

Anonymous said...

@ankur kulkarni

there is almost no work done by monsanto that is 'pro people'.

what kind of a 'pro people' company would make seeds with terminator genes where the farmer has to keep buying seeds from these companies every time they need to sow a crop?

please enlighten yourself

PKBang said...

@Ankur Kulkarni: In principle I would agree with you, but looking practically at this particular case it is very hard to imagine how Monsanto can be trusted. Especially seeing their record in other developing countries with similar projects((GM crops)). Like I said before, it is not merely about abstract morals; sure Monsanto doesn't actively seek to harm people a more accurate approximation of it's behavior may be that it doesn't care((like with any corporation but even more ruthlessly so)), now if they were working on something that wasn't likely to harm people, if not help them((like medicine, etc.)) then I would have conceded your point despite the fact that it would lead to Monsanto((which still has a record)) making money. But GM crops can have very real danger((or at least a chance of it)) to the local population where they are applied and Monsanto cannot be trusted to not show selfish callousness in this regard like it always has. Again, like I said in my previous post this may not be any grounds for legal restrictions but just because it is legal doesn't mean it is alright.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Ok.. Let's end the argument :-)

SA_IIT said...

Dear Prof. Giri and Prof. Sriram,

I have been offered a position of Assistant Professor in IIT on contract for 3 years @ Rs. 30000+8000/-. I have been interviewed by a selection committee. I would like to know the procedure and criteria for permanent absorption in IITs, especially in IIT Delhi.

Best regards,
SA_IIT

iitmsriram said...

@SA_IIT,

Wrong thread, methinks this should be in the thread for prospective faculty, am posting reply there.

Anonymous said...

why should a person pursue science in India? or to be more specific, why should a person pursue a PhD in India?

i see very few reasons to do so.

there is a low probability of getting selected in the top institutions/labs across the country even after getting a PhD from an IIX. check out the profs in most IIXs. most of them have PhD from abroad.

most of the recruitments happen on a goodwill basis or even worse on nepotism and very rarely on genuine talent search.

i have seen very good scientists being rejected posts in top notch institutions in this country, when at the same time people with questionable credentials have been selected.

when there are no job prospects for the doctorates of science in india, let alone any kind of financial incentives, i see no reason for a person pursuing science in india.

a pragmatic person would leave this country as soon as possible if he/she is really interested in pursuing science.


in short, India is not the place where budding scientists can have job security. it is a hostile place for scientists.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous January 14, 2012 6:21 PM

Yes, most of the recruitment at IIX happen on nepotism (academic). This is clearly evident when you see the faculty profiles (with mediocre credentials) of any IIX that are students of influential scientists/ directors of other IIX. They play the trick of not hiring their own students to cover their face, but plant them at other institutions.

In my view, it is difficult for a person with an abroad Ph.D. to enter into India academia, if he/she does not have any academic uncles or godfathers that can push their applications.

Bhartiyan said...

Nothing is going to change till we get a Nobel prize

Anonymous said...

@Bhartiyan

how is a nobel prize at all connected to any of this??