The problems were complex, but solutions were available to set Indian science on course. However, it would take time, said Nobel laureate Venki (Venkatraman) Ramakrishnan.
At The Hindu Lit for Life discussion on Sunday, on ‘What ails Indian science and what can be done about it’, Mr. Ramakrishnan said, “When you are young it is much easier to absorb concepts in your native language.”
Calling for developing science textbooks and education in regional languages, he said from developing science books in these languages — including 95% of the population that has no knowledge of English — to initiating dialogue with the 5% English-speaking privileged scientists, a range of solutions had to be pursued.
Language makes science inclusive and equalising, said Mr. Ramakrishnan.
“You have to be rooted to your language through culture. You cannot learn something which is disconnected and be anything but imitators. There are exceptional people who have overcome the barriers,” Mr. Ramakrishnan said. K. VijayRaghavan, principal scientific advisor to the Indian government, said, “Science, unlike music — Hindustani and Carnatic — is not appreciated nationally. Unless people at large want science as a quest for knowledge, this disconnect will persist.”
The strength of science in India had improved since the 1970s, but there were very few examples of Indian scientists breaking original ground.
The reason was lack of mentors for scientists to learn how to think about a problem, Mr. Ramakrishnan said.
Mr. VijayRaghavan agreed that funding for research and development, to a large extent, came from the government and mostly went to Central government institutions. He said the industry’s aversion to risk-taking was the reason it did not fund research.
He said Central institutions must involve the local community without giving up their independence to develop an inclusive atmosphere.
India should develop a pool of scientists who would help the country take advantage of discoveries made elsewhere.
By developing curiosity, questioning the authority and by relying on evidence, a scientific temper can be inculcated, Mr. Ramakrishnan said.