Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is India anti-science?

A few weeks back, the Prime Minister had made this remark on R&D in India: (Linky)
As publicly funded R&D was now “skewed” in favour of fundamental research, it would be easier to attract industrial funds to applied research. “A set of principles should be formulated to push such funding and to drive PPPs in R&D,” Dr. Singh said inaugurating the 99th annual session of the Indian Science Congress here.

“We must aim to increase the total R&D spending as a percentage of GDP to 2 per cent by the end of XII Plan [period] from the current level of 0.9 per cent. This can be achieved only if industry, which contributes about one-third of the total R&D expenditure today, increases its contribution significantly. I believe that public sector undertakings, especially in the energy sector, should play a major role in this expansion."
Independent of how much funding the GoI/MHRD/DST or any other funding agency in India puts in for fundamental or applied research, much of this funding will go through a leaky bucket unless there are enough people downstream to catch this source of money. That is, we need more people doing fundamental as well as applied research in India today. This is done in the US by the world's biggest employer, the U.S. Department of Defense (LInky) which intentionally employs more people in researchy/semi-researchy/contractual job profiles for many years -- an example that we can dearly ape in major part with minimal effort.

For that, we need role models to mould people into science and technology related areas instead of making the coming generations flock to art-sy arenas with more interest than to do the hard grind of research. On this topic, a recent report by a Professor at IISc (Linky) asks the rhetorical question: Is there nothing in this country of substance beyond Bollywood, cricket and politicians? The author further makes the remark that:
But more seriously, if young minds do not opt for science, where are the role models? Several scientists quietly work day and night, unseen and unsung. The Nobel Prize will not descend from the heaven, unless an appropriate environment is created and the role of scientists is appreciated. No technology comes without a risk and any one technology will not solve all our problems. But unbridled activism against science and scientists will only lead us to miss out on technology options. We need to give S&T a chance to deliver.
If the recent edition of the Padma awards (Linky) is any standard to go by in terms of creating role models in STEM fields, we have a scary battle on our hands to meet the PM's clamor call for more fundamental and applied research in India. For those who are impatient to click the link, here is the verdict (Science and Engineering, Literature and Education, Trade and Industry, Medicine, Arts, Total Awards):

Padma Vibhushan: 0 - 0 - 0 - 1 - 3 - 5
Padma Bhushan: 2 - 5 - 2 - 3 - 9 - 27
Padma Shri: 8 - 9 - 5 - 9 - 22 - 77

If the awards list are an indication, we are a nation of artists, theatrics, dramatists, playwrights, and litterateurs. So one should expect India to be anti-science too.

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