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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 14, New Delhi, March 20, 2021

Scientific Temperament - Need of the Hour | Narendra Nayak

Friday 19 March 2021


by Prof. Narendra Nayak

It is only through development of scientific temperament that this nation can truly realise the worth of the intellectual abilities of its people, writes

I am writing this on the 28th February which is ‘celebrated’ as the National Science Day and the birthday of Sir C V Raman the only Indian who was working in India to have been awarded a Nobel prize in science to be more specific in physics, to date. That too an event which happened a century back! This brings us to our abilities as researchers in fields of science rather the lack of them! While a laboratory like the Cambridge Laboratory of Molecular Biology has a dozen Nobel prizes to its credit including having some on its rolls who have won more than one, a whole nation has a single one to boast of! Well who is responsible for it? I would lay the blame squarely at our lack of scientific temper. While this term was not found in the dictionaries till recently-it is a typical Indianism like non-veg, cousin-brother, co-sister etc. It was coined by the first Prime minister of India, the same one whose ghost prevents the present ruling clique from functioning! It stands for rational thinking and has been made a part of the constitution of India under article 51 A(h)- which states that it is the duty of every citizen to develop scientific temper, the spirit of enquiry and humanism. So, in short it is exhorting the citizen to develop an attitude which questions everything and to demand to know the cause and effect relationship in any claim. To what extent is it observed? In a highly compartmentalised society like ours where non-science and pseudo-science is cherished under various guises like tradition and culture we are torn in between extremes of reason and superstition.

While the privileged classes - whether they be the social, political or religious, enjoy the best of both the worlds getting rarely into any problems as they cleverly balance them, it is the common man who bears the brunt of such. While the person whose birthday is celebrated as National Science Day himself was one such, the ritual highlights our sorry state and how the child’s ability to question is suppressed from a very young age. With all due respect for the great man who put India on the world map of scientific discovery who by the way had this attitude about rituals! I quote from this link

”Apparently, these men and women have not read an anecdote about CV Raman, the great scientist! Once, he was late for a meeting and after being probed simply said- he was observing(sic) a purnamasi fast. All his co-workers were aghast, but he simply said- faith is an internal matter and one should keep faith and science separate.”

A Hargobind Khorana or a Venky Ramakrishnan have to go abroad, overcome their mental attitude of servitude to become what they are- winning Nobel prizes for their outstanding research, our so-called scientific manpower languishes here thanks to our primitive mindset, bureaucratic red tape and attitudes of those in positions of power. It is also that the scientists who should have been more committed to their profession than other compulsions succumb to pressure. It is that even in scientific circles that sycophancy and politics have a major role. One of my classmates with hundreds of papers, dozens of patents, and PhDs had reached the number 2 position in a top CSIR research institute and was stuck there. He is a top polymer chemist of India and also world-renowned in his field. He told me once using the choicest expletives at me “If you were not my classmate I would have reached the top position. My three years with you has changed my attitudes so much and I cannot refrain from speaking out my mind and standing up for truth”! Mind you, he has been sticking to his motherland despite of lucrative offers from multinationals from all over the world.

The nexus between those in seats of power and their puppeteers- the religious right which is cleverly used by big business would like to keep our society technologically savvy but scientifically primitive. That is how we have a Nobel laureate of science (the only one till date) taking a bath after a solar eclipse or a puja being done to launch a satellite. While the clever peddler of woo promotes a nostrum for an infectious disease and claims that it is approved by WHO, the politicians releasing it cleverly take part in the function giving an impression of supporting it while taking proper precautions and medication for themselves. Yes, I am talking about the concoction of the winking contortionist which was released by the health minister who himself is a qualified man under the scientific, modern evidence based medicine.

Such rants are taken seriously in a society where people go by appearances and titles. Recently I had a desperate call from one of many of my adopted daughters- most of whom have done that process without even my knowledge or consent! This one I had met only three years back who had come to an interaction of mine.

While the pandemic of Covid19 saw all churches, temples, mosques and every place of worship being closed as the deity supposedly existent therein or rather worshipped in there could not do anything to protect himself or even the worshippers!

She was desperate because her husband who was not yet fifty had a heart attack and was in the ICU. Inspired by Youtube rants of an ex-physician now turned quack, he was refusing treatment and even tests for diagnosis! Finally she had convinced him to take my opinion and after calling me handed over the phone to him because she had got a promise that he will do what I tell him. I just told him to do what the doctors say and that his idol who was ranting about killer ICUs and futility of modern medicine had no problems in getting admitted to one and taking proper treatment when he had a brain haemorrhage! That convinced him to go for the procedures and he was diagnosed with multiple blocks and had to go in for a CABG. His wife called me after the procedure was over and said that he is doing well. While this is an isolated instance and can be taken anecdotally, it still shows how one can be influenced by a so-called ‘big name’! Lack of scientific temper among such is more dangerous than that occurring to ordinary people.

While the pandemic of Covid19 saw all churches, temples, mosques and every place of worship being closed as the deity supposedly existent therein or rather worshipped in there could not do anything to protect himself or even the worshippers! While these were closed the hospitals, research institutes and diagnostic laboratories were hard at work looking for solutions for the problems. The farmers were still tending their fields and agricultural activities were going on! While this should have taught a valuable lesson to the gullible, looks like it has not! There are still those who ascribe the success in the efforts to contain the epidemic and device a vaccine to a supernatural entity!

Is there a way out of this? With the present dispensation conducting cow examinations in which statements like its urine containing gold, exhaled air containing oxygen, urine being a cure for 440 diseases etc, one can hardly hope for development of scientific temperament. It also looks like the rulers want technologically savvy, politically gullible and scientifically illiterate young people who can be software coolies, good participants in assembly lines and such. That is why we will never have a Venky Ramakrishnan or a Hargobind Khorana here. While those at the top talk of ’Gaumutra’ and the winking contortionists’ concoctions for the public they have no problems in taking up scientifically proven treatments and diagnostic tests.

It is only through the development of scientific temper that this nation can truly realise the worth of the intellectual abilities of its people. That would be possible only by education in the true sense of the word and not by the rote system that is going on now.

(Author: Prof Narendra Nayak is a consumer activist and a rationalist. )

[The above article has appeared a column in Mangalore Today - March 2021 and is reproduced here with the permission of the author)

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