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Updated: January 5, 2011 16:43 IST

Scientists are not cricket or movie stars: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

B. Aravind Kumar
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Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan interacting with students after inaugurating the Children’s Science Congress at SRM University near Chennai on Tuesday. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan
The Hindu
Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan interacting with students after inaugurating the Children’s Science Congress at SRM University near Chennai on Tuesday. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

Mobbed everywhere for photographs and autographs on the first two days of the 98th Indian Science Congress, Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan asked Indians not to confuse scientists with movie and cricket stars.

Inaugurating the Children's Science Congress-2011 at SRM University on Tuesday, Mr. Ramakrishnan said science had no place for rituals and ceremonies, and that Indians were confusing scientists with stars.

“Scientists are not movie stars or politicians who will feel insulted if they are not showered with accolades. Scientists are not interested in accolades,” he said.

When Mr. Ramakrishnan escorted Nobel laureate Thomas Steitz — who arrived on his invitation to the Pride of India exhibition at the Science Congress — Mr. Ramakrishnan said they were mobbed and that the tour lasted 15 minutes.

“I could not explain to him the advances in Indian science. We are not cricket or movie stars,” Mr. Ramakrishnan said.

Similarly, at every meeting, he said he only spoke for 15 minutes and that the rest was pure ceremony.

“Science is curiosity, testing and experimenting,” he said, adding that as a scientist, he was accumulating human knowledge and not playing cricket for India.

“Science is an international enterprise where discoveries in one part of the world are useful in other parts. The traffic should be both ways, and at present the flow from the West to India is more,” he noted.

Concluding his remarks, Mr. Ramakrishnan said, “I've been honest with you. You are free to disagree. That's science.”

Scientists too need recognition and compliments. They are also human being and should be treated with proper reward mechanisms. Every person must understand that all work can't lead to success, but success always being achieved after repeated failure.

from:  Vikas
Posted on: Jan 11, 2011 at 16:55 IST

I totally agree with Dr. Ramakrishnan. Indian institutions have yet to show the world that they are worth the money they are spent for each year. In contrast to the ridiculously huge funding that flows toward institutions like TIFR, IISc, NCBS etc, it's a sad fact that the scientific output from these institutions so far is very minimal when it comes to global relevance and standards. We are more interested in comparing our institutions with MIT, Caltech, Cambridge, but less interested in producing excellent results like those. Our country is only worried about the corruption in politics, but when it comes to Science, Research, Technology etc, everyone assumes everything goes perfect! There should be a re-thinking of what goes wrong, where the money goes and necessary steps should be taken.

from:  Maya Dwivedi
Posted on: Jan 7, 2011 at 12:34 IST

Having read Dr. VK's PTI interview in the Hindu (Indians bothering, clogging his mail box; nothing significant in being Indian), his speeches and comments, I am not sure this scientist understands his role as a Nobel Laureate. He may be a fine scientist but he lacks research leadership and falls short of a role model. If his criticism was about politicisation of science that's right, but if he is uncomfortable with the popularisation of science, he has got a problem. When he gets back to his cold, prestigious Cambridge lab, I hope he will have a little time to reflect on how Indians celebrated his achievements with a sense of sharing, and how he was generally intolerant of the love received and lectured us on scientific protocols. I am surprised that our collective inferiority complex persists as a national malaise that we have to put up with this from a person whose only commonality with us is his name and skin colour (as he reminds us).

from:  Raja
Posted on: Jan 6, 2011 at 17:57 IST

Every moment of scientist's life is valuable. Dont waste his time by hovering around him for autographs and such other things. Let him be allowed to use each moment of his life to intent and discover the hidden. Further we must also realize that scientists are not cricketers and politicians, they are somewhat special.

from:  Jamil Baig
Posted on: Jan 6, 2011 at 10:50 IST

I would say whenever someone achieves in their field, I request Indians to stop organizing 'interactive' sessions with school children. Instead, if a meeting with a group of research scholars helps at least one RA that would have real benefits. School children know nary about the level of science that Ramakrishnan knows and it is also harder on his part to 'unlearn' things and converse on the 'high school level' of science. Please stop making up all these 'interactive' sessions. Realise that instead if those school students are encouraged, we can have many more Ramakrishnans in the future. But instead, it is easy for all of us to join a celebration party, but in reality which is worth nothing. Please ponder over this.

from:  Rakesh
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 20:13 IST

I am a scientist too, and I can tell you that in India, scientists want to be like the Movie stars and cricketers. When I was in India, I could feel it. More than the love or passion towards finding something new, excitement about knowing the unknown, it was about 'how important I can be in the scientific community'.I have seen earlier, that in India, some good football players play to get a job. When they get the job, the football becomes secondary and eventually leaves the scene. Same with scientists and researchers. They just want position and power and be part of certain 'committees' and 'boards', show-off and badmouth others, keep the talented and bright people away from the business, for the fear of getting caught and wiped out. I hope that the Indian government wakes up from the sleep that itis in. Its a pity that people think technologically India is powerful. We should look at our neighboring country China to find out what technology means. Well, there are true and honest people there as well, but they tend to be completely kept out of the focus. What a pity.

from:  Palash
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 18:58 IST

Well,scientists should be treated as movie stars-and why not? They work their butt off and hopefully the adulation and love will spur youngsters to take the long hard road of scientific pursuit. Just see the number of kids who have made cricket their only passion in life- Hopefully scientists like Dr Venky will similarly inspire kids.

from:  N.Shah
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 16:39 IST

It is an entirely personal choice. If one does not like invasion of one's privacy, assuming that one considers being mobbed an invasion, it is a personal choice. In a democracy, everyone is entitled not only to have his/her opinion, but also to express it.

from:  Sam Thomus
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 16:27 IST

What harm if a scientist mobbed by enthusiastic youths like cricket or film stars. Every subject whether it is science or otherwise needs propogation. Dr.Ramakrishnan,being a nobel laureate, may do it as this country full of illiterates or ignorances is much in need of it.

from:  Partha Mukherjee
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 15:52 IST

We have a big decease in India called brain drain. The system of education is to grant everyone a good knowledge, each and every person must be considered with great care. But unfortunately our system of schooling is the only way to identify the exceptional person with great potential. So we must pay attention while dealing with those instead of screening them with reservation system in universities and research centers. We have hundreds of colleges for everyone who wants to develop himself but do we have a single one where our brilliant students can show their abilities without reservation? So our knowledge and talent is filtered and retained at the lower tray by means of reservation system and that is why they are forced to go out of the country. Research centers like IITs - why do we need reservations here? Or relaxation in age can be given instead of marks if our government really wants to bring out the backward person to bright. It's human nature, you will go where you are recognized so people will go abroad until they are recognized in India.

from:  Jay
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 15:41 IST

Dr. Venki made valid observations on the ongoing science congress. I am a researcher and I found it extremely painful to see posters of politicians everywhere leading to the venue and inside. I just don't understand what is the purpose of science congress - they are making a mockery of science. The organizers should be ashamed of letting go one more Nobel laureate who skipped his lecture and went back. The so-called 'Pride of India' science exhibition organized alongside was so pathetic that it looked utterly ordinary by any science standards. I could not see any topic of discussion related to physics or chemistry, which is heart-breaking considering the amount that is being spent on arrangements to take care of politicians' security and lavishing decorations. Dr. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was right! Science is beyond rituals and ceremonies!I only hope that these jokers in science in India respect science in its right place, at least in future. Otherwise, young people like me who are enthusiastic about science might neglect science for sure.

from:  Shankar
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 14:58 IST

Absolutely true,There is no comparison between scientists and movie or cricket stars. If there is connection of scientists with any human category that is the category of saints.Scientists and saints are having plenty of things in common such as both work for the well-being of all the people irrespective of creed, color, nationality, caste, religion etc. Cricket or movie stars work for fame while as scientists work for the betterment of humankind selflessly. Fame is usually feast for the cricket/movie stars as it is their business while as it is painful for the scientists as it disturbs their smooth flow of imagination and thoughts.

from:  Yaqoob
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 13:39 IST

Every person wants to meet his idol. While Indians are obsessed with hero worship and go out of their way to make people uncomfortable, we should not belittle the importance of 'true heroes' like Ramakrishnan. I will any day spend a full day with him rather than an egoist and a self centered vain man like Sharukh Khan.Sharukh was in Singapore as the ambassador for the ICICI bank and put up a pathetic performance. Women who were called by him thought that they hit the pinnacle while anybody with half a brain would have found him to be vulgar, idiotic and full of himself. Ramakrishnan is a true hero and am really happy that people have really started to look at the real 'heroes' instead of fakes like Sharukh.

from:  Gunny
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 12:26 IST

The Genius Noble Laureate Dr.Ramakrishnan is interacting with students who by and large see him as a guide and philosopher. There is nothing wrong in the students mobbing him. The Genius Ramakrishnan should take it in the right spirit and encourage the upcoming students. After all Noble Laureates from India are far and few. Who knows one among the students from the group could be a Noble Laureate in future.

from:  R Sundara Raman
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 10:53 IST

Very True, He surely dicourages pomp and celebrity status like our former President APJ Abdul Kalam. Hope to see many Indian do like him.

from:  Subhash Sukumaran
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 09:48 IST

Unfortunately Indians have let scientific endevour deteriorate so much that the younger generation in India to a large extent take science at the behest of parents or to make money. Added to this is the so called reservation system which does not benefit anyone including the intented beneficiaries. It only pulls down everyone to the lowest common denominator rather than pull up everyone towards excellence and achievement. Indian education has become nothing but a way to get a job. This is in complete contradition to science as science is about having the curiosity and the patience to find the truth about various matters of universe. Scientists are finders of truth and as such do not generally care about how many people pat their backs. The success of experiments is enough and everything done is science is subject to change as more information becomes avbilable.

from:  Nagappa
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 09:39 IST

Albeit I agree with Mr Ramakrishnan on his displeasure at being mobbed for autographs, comparison of cricketers with movie stars is somewhat wrong. Film stars thrive on publicity which includes these kinds of sessions, while cricketers thrive only on their performance and skill. To say that cricketers like being mobbed is not knowing them.

from:  Ramachandra
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 08:53 IST

Absolutely spot on observation by Dr. Ramakrishnan. Indian's obsession with ceremonies is known world over. Most of our guests from western countries admit that they love the way they are received in India. Add to that the frenzied fan mindset of ours. We have a habit of going overboard in appreciating our achievers, often to the extent of deifying them. But while we please our guests, we lose the opportunity and time to gain from their visit. Let's be a little selfish in this regard.

from:  Divyank Singh
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 08:19 IST

I agree with Mr.Ramakrishnan's comments. The enthusiastic students could have been benefited more if result oriented sessions had been organized, not sure if there were any, where they could have picked his brain and shared their interest to learn. It is not everyday you get a chance to interact with someone who has achieved the highest recognition in their field of study. Students should be taught to apppreciate and behave according to the forums.

from:  J Kannan
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 07:52 IST

Venkatraman is Real Indian I really appreciate him

from:  Mohammad Gull
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 05:20 IST

He is talking from his heart and sure some find that inconvenient. Science is for humankind to benefit and his words are profound. I am sure some find this objectionable that knowledge is mostly moving from the West to India. The reality is India has not focused on research or research culture in largescale to make a dent; this doesn't mean India has lack of brains but pursuit of knowledge requires a different mindset and priorities starting from early education.

from:  Prabhudev Konana
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 04:42 IST

Actually scientists can be considered stars too. Albert Einstein was considered on of the first stars in the modern sense of the word. He was mobbed everywhere he went and was all over in the media. The standards for stardom have fallen since but there is nothing wrong with a scientist being a star or representing their country.

from:  Tom
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 02:54 IST

I agree with Mr.Ramakrishnan. But at the same time, he could have simply accepted the love, praise and regard that the Indians are showering on him during his visit. As he is more westernized, he wanted to make a point by keeping off people from encroaching into his personal space and also do not want the accolades etc., which over the years he must have forgotten having lived in the West. No one actually cares for these people there, and they are left alone to do their work. For people who have no exposure to the western world, his statements could sound rude, but actually it is not.

from:  Chandrasekhar
Posted on: Jan 5, 2011 at 00:22 IST
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