Four months ago, when thousands of people ‘marched for science’ in hundreds of cities, barely a whimper was heard in India. Now, a large group of scientists and organisations are preparing for a similar event in India to press for higher allocation for basic science research, curbing ‘propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas’ and focus on ‘evidence-based’ science education.
For perhaps the first time, the scientific community is poised to take the protest route to get their voices heard. An appeal for ‘India March for Science’, scheduled on August 9, has already drawn more than 40 researchers, journalists and activists.
“The global march was on April 22. India had then missed the bus, even though our problems are the same: inadequate government support and need for policies guided by science. We needed to get organised to ensure that our demands are heard by authorities,” said Soumitro Banerjee from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata.
Need to increase funding
Among the prime demands, and one that is long-pending, is to increase government spending on science and technology to at least 3% of the GDP. Currently, it is less than 0.8%, with the majority going towards atomic energy and space technology.
“There is emphasis on product-based science rather than basic science research. Sources of government funding for our research are reducing while asking government laboratories to raise revenue leads to greater insecurity in pursuing science,” says S. Mahadevan from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), Bengaluru.
The appeal notes with ‘deep concern’ that financial support to even premier institutions has been slashed while universities are facing a shortage of funds to adequately support scientific research.
For the scientists, it is not just funding that has been a concern. Over the past few years, Indian science, says the appeal, is ‘facing the danger’ of being eclipsed by religious bigotry and propagation of non-scientific ideas as science by persons in high positions.
The previous two editions of the Indian Science Congress ran into controversy over Vedic science and use of cow urine, apart from frequent claims of ancient India having been the source for modern inventions — all of which have fuelled ‘confrontational chauvinism’, say scientists.
“We are seeing a rise in institutions and State-sponsored policies using scientific jargon to justify unscientific ideas such as, say, finding out the therapeutic value of cow urine,” says Ranjani K.S., Karnataka coordinator for the non-profit science organisation Breakthrough Science Society (BSS) which is spear-heading the protests.
Date: August 9
* Increase government spending on science and technology to at least 3% of GDP
* Need for policies guided by science
* Concern over non-scientific ideas being propagated as science