Editorial

Life of science: On Indian Science Congress

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The Science Congress needs new ideas, and not a mix of myth and pseudoscience

The Indian Science Congress (ISC) — its 107th edition is under way in Bengaluru — has served as a reminder of the status accorded to science and technology in the early years of the Indian republic. Though the formation of the congress pre-dates the Indian republic, it was the intellectual nursery of modern science in the country. Early ideas of how science and technology could aid the development of the new nation were incubated at this coming together of scientists. It is for this reason that the congress, normally held in the first week of January, is inaugurated by the Prime Minister. The years since have seen the nature of the congress change: from one where scientists, in the era of postal communication, congregated to exchange scientific ideas to one today where it has become a ‘science mela’. The prime purpose of the ISC now is to draw school and science college students to hear Nobel Laureates and Indian-origin scientists from abroad to lecture about their work and the future prospects of science. The other draws are science projects and innovations by schoolchildren and stalls showcasing scientific work being done in key national laboratories and institutions.

But there is an unmistakable decay, a choreographed ennui, that has set in. In recent years, the congress often makes news for becoming a forum for pseudoscience and less for interesting scientific ideas or demonstrations. Speakers — some holding distinguished positions in leading universities — have tended to mix mythology and science and publicise far-fetched assertions: that the Kauravas were born from stem-cell technology and the Vedas discussed avionics. While this has eroded the congress’s public image, the government itself does not seem too keen to vitalise it. The exhibits at several scientific laboratories are re-runs from old congresses, or from similar and past science fairs. Many laboratories showcase their work as ‘posters’ rather than actually showing demonstrations or working inventions. Several luminaries of India’s science establishments — the Principal Scientific Adviser, secretaries from several ministries, the chiefs of major organisations such as ISRO or the Department of Atomic Energy, who have been fixtures, or have at least had their organisation present a dedicated talk or session, were absent this year. It is inevitable that traditions change over time and the relative importance accorded to institutions wax and wane. However this must make way for inspiring new ideas, or new models of taking science to the public. A rising trend in science displays, at museums or exhibitions in many places, is to mix science and art as well as make interactive displays that encourage audience engagement. A rebirth, and not a creeping requiem, is what the congress needs.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 3:41:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/life-of-science/article30487606.ece

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