Science in India
#1
Today is National Science Day. What is the nature of science in India? Is it something that arose from our soil, or is it something grafted from outside? Here is my two cents on that.

I want to begin by pointing out that there is a clear distinction between science, technology, mathematics, and philosophy, which we Indians tend to forget when making tall claims about our great past. We were good in mathematics, and philosophy. Technology can often arise without necessarily adopting the scientific method. But science? Sorry. The scientific method did not arise here. We have to thank the Greeks for that. In that sense, modern Indian science is a case of grafting that has not gone too well, although there are some honourable exceptions. I am of the firm opinion that India can become a truly great and powerful and prosperous country if we can somehow propagate the scientific method here.
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#2
The journal Science has a great article on the current state of science in India. It paints a very optimistic picture of the present and the future:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6071/904.full

Highlights:

I. Numbers

1. $3 Billion in public funds budget this year, to be hiked to $8 billion by 2017 under this spring's new 5 year plan.
2. $1.2 Billion to be funneled over the next 5 years to National Science and Engineering Research Board, which is modeled after the American NSF.
3. 2000-2010, research paper output doubled to 40,000 a year. India's share rose from 2.2% to 3.4% of all publications. Citations improved from 40% to 60% of world average.

II. Stories

1. Some scientists talk of how difficult it was to get money and equipment till about 20 years back.
2. Along with general lack of money, the post-Pokhran I sanctions since the 1970s led to- good: ingenuity, bad: lack of availability of the state of the art in technology
3. Demise of Soviet Union and 1990-91 economic crisis plunged scientific community into despair.
4. But things started improving after that, culminating in a way, with the lifting of international sanctions under the leadership of the US and George W. Bush and the Indo-US nuclear deal.
5. Description of world-class aerospace and nanotech facilities in IISc., neutrino detection/experimentation facility at Kalpakkam, supercomputing infrastructure, etc.

III. State of Affairs

1. 350 state universities - most are terrible.
2. Talent shortage due to brain-drain. Few institutes have 'critical mass' required for innovation.
3. Mention of YIM (http://www.yimboston.org)
4. Great work done at NCBS, etc. but "...there are fewer biologists in all of India than in Boston alone."
5. Success of the five IISERs
6. Trickle of returning expats expected to turn into deluge as western economy sags, given that Indian institutes of excellence offer lucrative salaries and perks.
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#3
Here is a panel discussion on India's upcoming Mars mission in NDTV's Left Right and Center.

http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/left-ri...o-featured (Watch from 31m 04s onwards)

Several key issues are discussed, like budgetary constraints necessitating a prioritizing of grassroots science (labs in rural schools) vs 'Big Science' (the Mars mission), communication challenges in making a case for exploratory research without immediate tangible benefits, and the distinction between 'technology missions' to demonstrate capability and 'science missions' intent upon discovery.

Speaking of grassroots science by 'civil society volunteers' without the need for public sector investment, a promising instance reported in Nirmukta circles is here: Catching Them Young : A High-School Science Camp in Mangalore, following up on this forum discussion (worth revisiting to add resources as and when we find them).
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#4
(01-Mar-2012, 02:17 PM)karatalaamalaka Wrote: The journal Science has a great article on the current state of science in India. It paints a very optimistic picture of the present and the future:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6071/904.full

Highlights:

I. Numbers

1. $3 Billion in public funds budget this year, to be hiked to $8 billion by 2017 under this spring's new 5 year plan.
2. $1.2 Billion to be funneled over the next 5 years to National Science and Engineering Research Board, which is modeled after the American NSF.
3. 2000-2010, research paper output doubled to 40,000 a year. India's share rose from 2.2% to 3.4% of all publications. Citations improved from 40% to 60% of world average.

II. Stories

1. Some scientists talk of how difficult it was to get money and equipment till about 20 years back.
2. Along with general lack of money, the post-Pokhran I sanctions since the 1970s led to- good: ingenuity, bad: lack of availability of the state of the art in technology
3. Demise of Soviet Union and 1990-91 economic crisis plunged scientific community into despair.
4. But things started improving after that, culminating in a way, with the lifting of international sanctions under the leadership of the US and George W. Bush and the Indo-US nuclear deal.
5. Description of world-class aerospace and nanotech facilities in IISc., neutrino detection/experimentation facility at Kalpakkam, supercomputing infrastructure, etc.

III. State of Affairs

1. 350 state universities - most are terrible.
2. Talent shortage due to brain-drain. Few institutes have 'critical mass' required for innovation.
3. Mention of YIM (http://www.yimboston.org)
4. Great work done at NCBS, etc. but "...there are fewer biologists in all of India than in Boston alone."
5. Success of the five IISERs
6. Trickle of returning expats expected to turn into deluge as western economy sags, given that Indian institutes of excellence offer lucrative salaries and perks.

This is indeed good news. With science in the west facing budget cuts and the path to tenure becoming increasingly tedious and long, it is no wonder that Indians are going back, Besides, we need more people with a scientific temper back home.
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#5
(02-Jan-2013, 09:50 AM)the_analyzer Wrote: This is indeed good news. With science in the west facing budget cuts and the path to tenure becoming increasingly tedious and long, it is no wonder that Indians are going back, Besides, we need more people with a scientific temper back home.

Now, if only scientific training automatically guaranteed scientific temper! In that case, repatriation of a trained workforce might indeed result in a scientific awakening. However, it is a less sanguine state of affairs on the ground, due to an emphasis on skill-learning without worldview-shaping, persisting susceptibility to dysrationalia, lukewarm science-popularization due to scientists' hesitation to actively engage, some scientists' susceptibility to rampant revivalism and difficulties in reversing pre-scientific conditioning and default religiosity across the board.
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#6
Nice post, Vinod. Thank you. I agree that propagation of the scientific method has a lot of positive externalities and is essential before India can call itself great.

As a teenager, I recall reading that India has the third largest pool of scientific manpower, after the then Soviet Union and USA. It was later that I learnt that anybody with a BSc or a diploma in engineering is also counted as scientific manpower.

I do not think former President Kalam is or was a scientist. He was a technician and technocrat. Yet people call him a scientist. And he does not protest. :-)

The scientific method can be used in the social sciences - economics, history, sociology, ... too. I have often found Indians trained in these disciplines to be more scientific in their thinking than many PhDs in physics or chemistry who are merely technicians in a set of lab procedures.

I did not learn the scientific method properly in school in India. We maintained lab record note books that had columns for experiment, observation and conclusion/inference - while these are elements in the scientific method, the method itself was not taught properly and I suspect the teachers did not know themselves.

Even after two college degrees in India from so called premium institutions, I graduated without a proper grasp of the scientific method.
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