Sunday, August 9, 2020

How can Science Communication save the day

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Representative image for scientific innovation | Source: Science in HD via Unsplash

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.

ISRO Launching a satellite: Source: ISRO

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.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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