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regular-article-logo Sunday, 14 April 2024

Sun and shade: Editorial on India’s advances in space research and the bleaker situation in the rest of the science arena

The government’s apparent discouragement of scientific learning shorn of the thrills of international glamour is a betrayal of the entire community of learners, scientific and otherwise

The Editorial Board Published 10.01.24, 07:37 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo

Two achievements in space within six months are reason for great pride for the Indian Space Research Organisation and the country’s scientific community. The space-based observatory, Aditya-L1, has slid into position at a point called Lagrange 1 from which it will conduct studies of the sun. Meanwhile, the propulsion module of Chandrayaan-3 which dropped a lander and a probe near the southern pole of the moon in August 2023, allowing for the collection of unprecedented data, has been successfully manoeuvred into the earth’s orbital route on a return journey. These are really three huge achievements, if the refined applications resulting from the talent, de­dication, determination and collaboration of scie­ntists can be quantified at all. The brilliant adv­ances in space research, however, obscure the bleaker situation in the rest of India’s science arena. Symbolic of that is the cancellation of the 109th Indian Science Congress this year, because of disagreements between the Indian Science Con­g­ress Association and the government over finances and, presumably, content. The ISCA had been objecting to government interference, while the Science Congress had declined in value and prestige since pseudo-scientific claims glorifying a fictitious past had begun masquerading as papers since 2015. But the government’s decision to withdraw funding till the ISCA ‘mends its ways’ is ominous in a broader sense; its patronage of the India International Science Festival, organised chiefly by a sangh parivar outfit, remains unaltered.

The propagation of pseudo-science is part of a systematic assault on the scientific mindset. Not only are school text-books being changed to accommodate a myth-based account of ancient India’s achievements, but the shrinking funds for research in higher education discourage students from studying science. India spends only around 0.7% of its gross domestic product on science research, of which 61% went into defence, atomic and space research in 2020. Delays in the disbursal of research funds affect equipment, publication and, most important, the livelihood of research fellows. Uncertain futures, the lack of income protection during research and the impracticality of carrying out lengthy work have led to poor research quantity, a waste of scientific potential and a thinning of the community. Those who can, leave — for other shores. The government’s apparent discouragement of scientific learning shorn of the thrills of international glamour is a betrayal of the entire community of learners, scientific and otherwise.

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