July 19th, 2017
A group of scientists and academics across the country will team up with concerned citizens to organise a national “March for Science” on August 9 this year. The march will be unique as India’s scientists for rake the protest route for probably the first time to highlight evidence-based policy making and the need to increase science funding and criticise pseudo-scientific/unscientific beliefs.
The group – Breakthrough Science Society – aims to replicate the success of the Global March for Science, which took place on April 22 in 600 cities across the world, where over a million people demanded robust funding for science and demanded that governmental policies be guided by scientific evidence.
Why an all-India March for Science?
The Logical Indian spoke with Soumitro Banerjee, General Secretary of Breakthrough Science Society and Professor at the Department of Physical Sciences in the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata.
Professor Banerjee said, “On 22 April, when the world marched for science, the historic movement failed to make an impression in India. We missed the bus. But now, Indians who practice and support science and evidence-based beliefs have decided to take a stand. We need to voice our support for the funding and propagation of science and criticise irrational beliefs. This is an urgent need. Research institutions are extremely constrained, financially speaking. CSIR (India’s largest R&D organisation), in fact, has declared a financial emergency due to a complete lack of funds.”
The Professor continued, “There is also a propagation of unscientific views and beliefs. There seems to be a lack of money to spend on scientific research but there seems to be enough money to spend on researching cow urine and Rama Setu. This has fuelled a confrontational chauvinism in lieu of true patriotism that we cherish. Many organisations have come forward to support the March for Science and we are expecting a massive and successful movement.”
Worrying lack of research funding
Scientists said in their appeal to the country that, on the one hand, scientists from India have played a commendable role in the discovery of gravitational waves and of the Higgs Boson, in the interplanetary mission through Mangalyaan, and in reducing foreign dependence through the development of indigenous satellite launching capability.
But, on the other hand, science in India is facing the danger of being eclipsed by a rising wave of unscientific beliefs and religious bigotry, and scientific research is suffering a serious setback due to dwindling governmental support.
In fact, financial support to even premier institutions like IITs, NITs, and IISERs has been slashed. Universities are facing a shortage of funds to adequately support scientific research. Research funding agencies like DST, DBT and CSIR are reportedly impacted by reduced governmental support. Scientists in government laboratories are being asked to generate a part of their salary by selling their inventions and from other sources.
Scientists appeal, “We feel that the situation demands the members of scientific community to stand in defence of science and scientific attitude in an open and visible manner as done by scientists and science enthusiasts worldwide … We appeal to scientists, researchers, teachers, students, as well as all concerned citizens to organise ‘India March for Science’ events throughout the country, particularly in the state capitals, on 9th August 2017.”
March for Science’s demands
The participants of India’s March for Science will put forth four main demands to the government and to society as a whole:
- Allocate at least 3% of GDP to scientific and technological research and 10% towards education
- Stop propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas and religious intolerance, and develop scientific temper, human values, and spirit of inquiry in conformance with Article 51A of the Constitution.
- Ensure that the education system imparts only ideas that are supported by scientific evidence.
- Enact policies based on evidence-based science.
To know more about March for Science, visit their official website here.
India’s scientific spending: A dismal tale
India’s spending on scientific research has been less than 1% of GDP for the past two decades. Each budget has done its best disappoint Indian scientists with its unchanging allocation to scientific spending, often cutting spending to certain departments. Whenever budget proposals advised an increase in science spending, inflation would practically nullify any benefits. India’s scientific spending numbers are comparable to those of Ukraine and Mexico.
However, despite the unenthusiastic funding, Indian scientists have endeavoured admirably. India was ranked 13th globally according to a number of papers published in top journals. This was studied by a Nature Index report which presented a refreshing picture of Indian science showing a marked growth in high-quality scientific publication between 2012 and 2014 and revealed a particular strength in the broad discipline of chemistry.
While successive governments have promised to increase spending on research, it has remained at less than 1% of the GDP. The government should increase spending on science and research. India should become a hub for innovation and a global leader in research.
Why should the government invest in science?
Some people argue that governments cannot afford to spend too much on research in a country like India which has many problems like poverty, malnutrition, health care, and illiteracy.
That is a valid point. Except that the government can easily afford to allocate more funds to science. Nobody is proposing that science spending be increased to 10% or 20% of GDP; a slight increase to even 1.5% or 2% (or 3&, which is what August 9’s demonstrations will demand) will work wonders. Countries which are renowned for encouraging research – like South Korea, Japan, and Sweden – spend only around 3% to 4% of their GDP on research and development. As such, even a slight increase by the Indian government will go a long way in helping our scientists.
Furthermore, the progressive nature of a country can be determined by how much it spends on research and by how much it respects its scientists. A country which invests in science is a country which is guaranteed to become modern and developed.
- Research saves lives – new medicines and better medical treatments are possible only through scientific research. Take cancer as an example – thanks to research, survival rates have doubled since the 70s.
- An increase in research spending will inspire universities and colleges to encourage research on a local level; this will motivate Indian youth to take on research as a career choice. This will increase the pool of scientific talent in our country.
- It has been recognised around the world that an increase in science spending boosts the economy as a whole and increases productivity.
- An increase in science spending – to be fair, in any major department in general – will generate employment opportunities.
“There is a popular belief that basic science is driven purely by intellectual curiosity, without regard for practical applications, but for the most part, that’s wrong. Scientists want to solve important problems. In basic research, importance is defined by more than just intellectual appeal; two other factors are also crucial: the potential impact of the result and the realistic possibility of a solution. Science is the art of the soluble, and well-trained, well-connected, and well-supported scientists working on the bleeding edge of our understanding are in a good position to recognise the most promising opportunities for progress.” – Michael White, Pacific Standard.
To know more about March for Science, visit their official website here.