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‘Silence of scientists affecting research and development in India due to political polarisation’

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(G.N.S) Dt. 28

Pune

Lamenting that a “pernicious political landscape” was hurting the progress of science in India, speakers at an annual meeting of scientists on Wednesday urged the members of the scientific community to “unite and speak up”. By remaining silent on issues that affect matters related to science, scientists were losing respect, they said.

“Science is under attack, due to the pernicious political landscape, coupled with the practiced scientific model, which is at least a century old and finds no relevance in the 21st century,” said S Sivaram, a senior member of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), in his opening remarks at the inaugural session of the 83rd Anniversary General Meeting Programme of the INSA, which started in Pune on Wednesday.

Sivaram said the field of science in India was in need of “a newer area of work, with new stories and themes to work on”. “Our present day science comprises of old stories, which have become outdated. There is a need to introspect on whether there is a new story to tell,” he said.

While scientists have complained repeatedly about funding drying up for research, some speakers also highlighted the “silence” maintained by many scientists about the problems and issues faced by the community, and claimed that it was a “bigger threat”.

“By remaining non-reactive against bizarre statements that are often doing the rounds, scientists are actually losing respect. The issue with funding in science is true and the academies can do little about it. There is a need for scientists to unite and speak up in unison,” suggested Jayant Udgaonkar, director, Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Pune, which is a co-organiser of the three-day national meet.

Sivaram, former director of CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory (CSIR-NCL), reminded the audience that scientists needed to demonstrate “measurable benefits” of their research to society. “A section of scientists believe that public funding in science is charity and that there is little accountability to the public, with some obligations to their own community,” he said.

Addressing the need to engage more young scientists, Sivaram said, “We must recognise that it involves the country’s future and therefore, the academies must ponder how young scientists must be made a part of this conversation, along with making them stakeholders for a future that they will be working in.”

INSA president Ajay Sood, during his speech, admitted that science academies in India should have a focused approach. “There is a lot of room for science academies to perform and we must do something more. Though it is not a very easy subject, we are hopeful about putting together some action plan before the academy. We also need to identify focus areas that will have an impact,” he said. On the way science is taught in India, and the need to engage teachers and give them research experience, senior IISER scientist L S Shashidhara said, “We need a pedagogical change… and we need to train newer teachers simultaneously, providing them with research experiences that can later be translated to teaching.”

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