Prime Minister cautions against putting products of science to illiberal uses

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday cautioned the nation against tendencies of putting the products of science to illiberal uses.

Inaugurating the 98th Indian Science Congress at Kattankulathur, about 40 km from here, Dr. Singh pointed out that science had made strides even in societies that were neither modern nor liberal, and the products of science had been put to illiberal uses.

Describing himself as one belonging to a generation that worried about the links between science and society, Dr. Singh said the people had believed that scientific temper would help India make the transition from a traditional to a modern society.

“We saw the development of science as intrinsic to the advancement of modernism, pluralism and liberalism,” he said.

Science and ethics

Dr. Singh gave examples of how scientific knowledge was applied for destructive purposes — such as experiments in eugenics in Nazi Germany and the use of poison gas in wars — as well as for constructive purposes such as the breeding of new crop varieties and the advancement of agro-chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

The examples illustrated why the application of scientific knowledge to human and social development must be value-based, even though science itself might be value-neutral.

Referring to modern developments in bio-sciences, Dr. Singh said that though the capacity was being acquired to manipulate the human genome, an ethical framework had not yet been developed to define red lines.

Posing a set of questions to scientists, Dr. Singh asked: “Should they develop a code of conduct that defines the limits within which they will work on the application of their discoveries? Should there be a collegial process for deciding difficult cases?”

‘Attract more youth'

Addressing the audience — which included Ministers of Union and State governments and eminent scientists — the Prime Minister urged the Union Ministries of Human Resource Development and of Science and Technology to jointly mount efforts to attract more young people to the study of science. He referred to the report submitted by the Prime Minister's Science Advisory Council in August 2010.

Quoting from the report, Dr. Singh said that most instruments now available in the country, using the principle of the Raman Effect, were imported.

He said; “This is not an isolated example. Many of our outstanding scientific discoveries have been converted into marketable products by technologists and firms abroad. Why is the translation of good science and research into products so weak in our country? How do we strengthen the link between universities, research laboratories and industry?”

Dr. Singh presented awards of the Indian Science Congress Association (ICSA) to 26 persons, including five Nobel laureates — Martin Chalfie, R. Timothy Hunt, Thomas Steitz, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, and Ada E. Yonath.

‘Foster innovation'

Human Resource Development and Communications Minister Kapil Sibal said India should broaden its skills base beyond a few centres of excellence and foster innovation on a national scale to continue its climb on the global technology ladder.

Stressing the need for creating and enhancing the nation's competitive edge, Mr. Sibal said that for this to happen, quality and merit-based education for the entire population was a must.

Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said there was an increasing tendency among students to shy away from pursuing mathematics and science due to lack of employment opportunities. He called for enlarging career opportunities in private and public research and development institutions as well as in universities.