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India needs to be less superstitious, more rational: Nobel laureate

Venkataraman Ramakrishnan delevering a lecture as part of the Centenary Lecture series of the University of Mysore on Friday.-- PHOTO:M.A.SRIRAM

Venkataraman Ramakrishnan delevering a lecture as part of the Centenary Lecture series of the University of Mysore on Friday.-- PHOTO:M.A.SRIRAM  

Stressing the imperatives of pursuing evidence-based science, Nobel laureate Venkataraman Ramakrishnan said that India needs to become more rational and less superstitious as a society in order to advance.

Delivering the fourth in the series of Centenary Lectures of the University of Mysore here on Friday, Dr Ramakrishnan said a culture based on superstition will always fare badly than a culture based on scientific knowledge. Dr Ramakrishnan’s lecture was on the topic: On Nobody’s Word: Evidence and Modern Science.

“It is not an accident that modern scientific methods developed in western Europe and as a result it propelled industrial revolution and modern medicine, and these countries, including the U.S., which adapted similar values, advanced dramatically in the last 200 years. But other societies were stuck where they were because they did not incorporate scientific beliefs’, he said.

He pointed out that East Asian countries, including Japan, China, Singapore and South Korea, are adopting these scientific methods and progressed. Cautioning against belief systems not based on scientific evidence, Dr Venkataraman cited alternative medicines such as homoeopathy as being without basis in the understanding of chemistry or biology.

Likewise, there was no evidence that planetary movement has any effect on one’s fate.

Such beliefs, Dr Venkatraman said, are harmful because there are practitioners who advocate alternative medicines for even life threatening diseases for which there are antibiotics and other drugs. Similarly, astrology could corrupt people and lead them away from taking effective action based on logic and contemplation or proper analysis of what is based on the evidence or is rational to do.

He said in the last 100 years, life expectancy has doubled because of medicines based on science and lots of diseased have been eradicated.

Though medicine is based on evidence-based science, it may not be perfect but it evolves and discards anything based on new discovery or understanding, and this is the characteristic of modern medicine based on science, said Dr Ramakrishnan.

Pointing out that many scientists, including Nobel Laureates, had erred, Dr Ramakrishna said it was because they tried to propagate ideas that were outside their areas of expertise.

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