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Specialised Report / fo'ksÔK fjiksZV


indiamediaplatform news service

“It is suicidal to have a society dependent upon science & technology where masses are not aware of the developments of science.”
Carl Sagan

Science ConferenceThe eleventh International Conference on Public Communication of Science and Technology was held in India recently. It was conducted jn three phases – pre conference seminar at Khajuraho, the main conference at Delhi and the post conference workshop at Jaipur.

With the objective of conjuring new ways and putting best ideas into practice, it had a re-look at the models, tools, policy matters and social aspects of science communication.

The theme of pre – Conference Seminar was “Towards a Scientifically Aware & Attitudinally Rational World”. Organised by M .P Council of Science & Tech (MAPCOST), it was inaugurated by Dr. A.K. Verma, Advisor, (S&T), Planning Commission, Govt. of India. Prof. P.K.Verma Director General, (MAPCOST), Bhopal presided over the function. A.Jayakumar, General Secretary, Vijnana Bharati was the Guest of Honour.

dressAt Khajuraho the ball was set rolling by Dr. A.K Verma who in his inaugural address highlighted the aptness of the theme as being the need of the hour. It assumes importance in view of the fact that 2012 has been declared the year of Science. In his welcome address, Dr. Manoj Patariya, Director, NCSTC, delineated the difference of communication model of knowledge deficit normally followed in various parts of the world and the sharing of knowledge model followed by India. This is to be seen in the light of the fact that in the west knowledge is a commodity to be transacted whereas in India Jnana is a Prasad to be shared by the maximum number possible. Prof. P.K. Verma said that theme of this seminar conveys the broad spectrum from science to attitude and rational world .Unless there is a groundswell of scientific temper in the society, it is difficult to imagine science and scientists getting their due. Jayakumar quoted examples from our heritage of Vedas, Shastras and Puranas. He said that India has a tradition of communication about life through hearing from elders and mentors, which continues from generation to generation – Jot Se jot Jale.

Dr. Sandeep Goyal, the convener of the seminar cited a Buddhist scholar who said “A courageous cry of a single individual can change the course of history”.
He hoped that the two day seminar will be a turning point in science communication. After all, if communicators don’t interact who will?

In the following session, P. K. Mishra of the BHU spoke about the glorious height that Indian Science had achieved during the first millennium. The reasons for subsequent eight centuries of dark ages were ascribed to the invaders who systematically destroyed the “Indian way” of learning and research.

A presentation highlighting MAPCOST’s activities followed. Interesting ones included popularising Science among tribals; research in organic farming, herbal medicines, nano technology and Vighyan Manthan Yatras.

Dr Tahir of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) spoke about the Knowledge divide and the need for bringing the gap .Else it may lead to a civil war like situation down the line. He also spoke of the move to digitise all the traditional Knowledge of India for the benefit of protecting the IPR (Intellectual property rights) – there are no individual / Organisational IPR holders; nations hold it on behalf of its people.

In his presentation, Dr. Pateriya spoke about the ways to develop Scientific temper. He also spoke on the role of media which was not very encouraging at the moment. Elaborating, he spoke of the possibility and efficacy of a dedicated science channel – it was felt that science reaches out far more effectively to public thru a general information channel. He also spoke about the in house media, particularly the websites- which was more focused on administrative than scientific activities. Another paradox is the fact that scientists in the government are barred from speaking to the media directly, yet it is expected that scientific development would be communicated to the masses effectively.

Dr. Shrivastava of the NCTSC spoke of the role and importance of the communication in that it gives rise to innovation. He further spoke of the ways and means of public communication suggesting animation as a great tool through sciencetoons. He also emphasized communication with all sections of society including children and women.

Retd. Air Vice Marshal Tiwary talked about open source world based on the concept of Vasudhaev Kutumbakam …we shouldn’t ape the west. He also had an interesting take on how our epics could be used for communication. Besides, he emphasised the need for communicating science in the vernacular.

Dr. Bajaj from Chennai lamented the fact that our scientists are not following
The Indian approach of collecting huge amounts of data and then theorizing. He exhorted the promotion of an increasingly observational approach. Brazilian Delegate Luisa Massarani spoke about the need of science and art to work together. Marina Joubert of the University of Pretoria wondered whether the indicators of development of the west based on science alone were apt for the developing world.

Our take on the event was that there was a slight Atishyokti (hype) in the name of great Indian Scientific tradition. At times the speakers got carried away by attributing many of the major achievements of the western science onto the Vedic Texts – a common folly among Indian Science communicators. Revivalism is a dangerous thing; it may make some sense in religion but in science you need rigorous proof, secular nature and reproducibility. (Even Leonardo Da Vinci spoke about various futuristic inventions but he was never considered a scientist). Myth is neither history nor science – all that one can suppose is that it implies that the kernel of science does exist in Indian system (unlike many of the backward nations and nothing more than that); just as we had the kernel of English language and so when IT came we had a head start – similarly, we can progress much faster than other developing nations on the scientific fronts given our historical kernel.

About the Indian approach our view is that Science is similar but not same as Vigyana. They may be searching for the same truth may even use same or similar tools but the approach is different. While the former emanates from the ancient Greek approach of analysis with focus on theoretical aspects the latter follows Great Indian tradition of observation and emphasis on application. There is no need for one to run down the other or get rubbished in turn – it is with the combination of both that the world can get ever closer to revealing the ways of universe.

On the issue of innovation we feel that it can at most provide to incremental growth – for quantum jumps invention is needed which can only come through pure science?

In the west, knowledge will remain a commodity and hence it is utopian to expect that it’ll be shared gratis. However, a case could be made for technology transfer with suitable cost and safeguards. Besides, given the exclusive and dominating nature of western science, it is imperative to keep the knowledge divide to the minimum by effective communication

All said and done, science communication alone will not inculcate an interest in Science; it will have to be based on role models and incentives. More importantly, at least a part of the focus will have to be shifted from applied to pure science- maths in particular- at the highest levels of decision making. Only, then can we hope for a tangible game change in our lifetime.

On the whole the event was in the right direction even though the academic discussion – sightseeing balance was a little skewed towards the latter. MPCOST deserves kudos for having taken such an initiative. It however, remains to be seen if all the good intentions would be backed up by matching actions, particularly in view of India aiming to be a technology superpower by 2030.

(For the details of the main conference visit: www.pcst-2010.org; www.dst.gov.in)