Scientists oppose study into ‘qualities’ of indigenous cows

Voicing concern:Some 400 scientists have called upon the authorities to drop the proposed study.K.K.Mustafah

Voicing concern:Some 400 scientists have called upon the authorities to drop the proposed study.K.K.Mustafah  

‘DST proposal drafted unscientifically from start to finish’

At least 400 scientists have petitioned the Department of Science & Technology (DST) to withdraw a proposal that solicits research into indigenous cows.

As The Hindu reported on February 17, SUTRA-PIC or ‘Scientific Utilisation Through Research Augmentation-Prime Products from Indigenous Cows’, has five themes: “Uniqueness of Indigenous Cows, Prime-products from Indigenous Cows for Medicine and Health, Prime-products from Indigenous Cows for Agricultural Applications, Prime-products from Indigenous Cows for Food and Nutrition, Prime-products from Indigenous Cows-based Utility Items”, according to a concept note on the DST website.

‘Extremely perturbed’

In an online petition to Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST, and K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the government, the scientists write that as “..concerned scientists and science communicators of the country, [they] are extremely perturbed by the recent call for research proposals”.

Their key concerns were that the research programme appeared to endorse the belief that indigenous cows had “special” and “unique” qualities and that this opened the possibility of money being “wasted to investigate imaginary qualities derived from religious scriptures”.

The programme did not encourage fair comparison with other breeds of cows around the world or other bovine species within India, and that the proposal was “drafted unscientifically from start to finish”. Finally, given that scientific funding for several research programmes was wanting and researchers were not getting their fellowships on time, it was “infuriating” that the DST was ready to fund such a “dubious scheme”, the petitioners note.

The proposal ought to be withdrawn and restated to encourage open inquiry and encumbering investigators to also “cross check” if effects were seen in indigenous breeds alone or were also visible in “other cow breeds, bovine species or other mammals”, the petition said.

‘Worth pursuing’

Dr. Sharma told The Hindu that he had not received the petition but was aware of “news reports” that had reported scientists’ concerns. He said that all research proposals by scientists under the programme would be vetted by qualified scientists and each one of them accepted — or rejected — on merit.

“Concerns on apparent bias or widening the ambit to include more bovines could be passed on to the scientist committee evaluating the proposals. However, this is a programme that could unearth new information and new ideas and was certainly worth pursuing,” he said.

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