Stop The Circus, Stick to Science

The just-concluded Indian Science Congress (ISC) has once again landed in a controversy. Not for any differences in a debate about science, or how it should be pursued or propagated. But for facing a more existential question, about the very need for holding the meet. The reason? India-born Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan termed the ISC “a circus where very little science was discussed”. BG Sidharth, Director, BM Birla Science Centre, Hyderabad, called the Congress a ‘Kumbh Mela of science’ where the entire focus was on the PM’s visit and claimed it had become a platform where old friends indulge in ‘you-scratch-my-back-and-I-will-scratch-yours’ exercise. Another opponent of the Congress is PM Bhargava, founder-director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, who felt ISC had deteriorated over decades and holding it now was “an absolute waste of money”. So, has it become a platform for pleasing political masters, an annual jamboree sans serious science?

Last year, there were allegations that attempts were being made to ‘saffronise’ the Congress after one participant delivered a lecture claiming that aircraft was invented by a sage in the Vedic times. This, of course, was met with strong resistance. The moot question is: what is the purpose of organising the Congress? To act as an interface between scientists, public and policy makers. As Princeton mathematician Manjul Bhargava, the first person of Indian origin to win Fields Medal — Nobel equivalent for mathematics — put it, the purpose of the Congress is to meet scientists from across the country, build connections and find common interests.

Another scientist avers it’s a well-known fact that emphasis is not so much on frontline science but meant to give an overview to the general public and youngsters on what is happening in the scientific community. Scientists, like other mortals, come in hues of the Vibgyor. However, they should rise above personal predilections and stick to pursuit and spread of serious science instead of squabbling. Disbanding the ISC would be like throwing the baby with the bathwater. Instead, they should refocus on the core purpose and stick to it.

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