Pierre-Simon Laplace, an exemplary French Mathematician, once quoted: “It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit.”
I intentionally aimed to start this article with a quote by an excellent western mathematician, because we Indians need validation from westerners. We are quite capable of making high strides in science, technology, and innovation, but there is a lack of vision; lack of confidence.
The newly Independent India of 1947 had a vision: a vision to transform into a developed country using scientific interventions. We had some great revolutionaries who worked tirelessly to shape a bright future for our country. Dr. Vikaram Sarabhai founded the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) while Dr. Homi J Bhabha, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). There was a time when Dr Sarabhai convinced a Church to give land for a rocket launch station.
When India became Independent in 1947, people just wanted to earn enough to survive in the rapidly changing, bitter conditions. Today, when we are one of the economies of the world, we are fighting over temples and mosques, trying to rename cities, and dream of resurrecting some thousands of years old notion of India, the quest for scientific temperament is lost somewhere along the way.
Over the years, India’s spending on Research and Development has increased significantly in overall value but its share in GDP has remained stagnant at 0.6-0.9%. The research being done in India is quite good if we compare it to the funding received. However if we compare it with the developed countries, the gap is phenomenal.
India’s space program, atomic energy program, development of supercomputers, or development of light combat aircraft- Tejas shows that Indian scientists have given great results at a fraction of the costs of their western counterparts. Still the allocation of funds for the scientific research is well short of what is required to catapult India into the league of developed nations.
If we deep dive into the probable causes of underfunding of Indian scientific research in spite of giving good return on investment, it boils down to the lack of awareness about the same among the larger public as well as policymakers. As we know that the best way to receive funding is to create awareness about a valuable product. We don’t lack products; we lack dialogue. Science is hardly ever reported in India. It’s rarely a point of discourse. When there is no discourse around something, it leads to a lack of interest. This is also driving away the bright students from pure sciences to the technology and management which is more remunerative.
Another issue that sprouts up from lack of discourse is the lack of belief in science. We have seen how in India, many public figures started spreading home remedies and terrible unchecked solutions like the benefits of Cow Urine during the COVID outbreak. The news channels, instead of discussing facts, talked about conspiracy theories. These news channels sometimes invited scientists for talks, but eventually, ruined everyone’s time for their TRP by asking them about the conspiracy theories.
Science literacy can reduce these pseudoscience tactics. Indians extensively believe in spirituality which is good for personal motivation and values, however the unscrupulous elements have often used it to spread misinformation and personal gains. It's imperative that we take a stand to promote scientific thought, and this is not at all an arduous task. Instead, the solution is straightforward: We need to communicate.
We need our own Neil DeGrasse Tysons, Carl Zimmers, Carl Sagans who can communicate with the common people about scientific development, in a simple language. This will help us to kick start our journey towards the Golden Era of Science without a baggage of baseless beliefs, pseudoscience, and untested products.