Why India Lacks Nobel Laureates in Science? Wonders Harsh Vardhan

The Union Minister for Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, Dr. Harsh Vardhan addressing at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), at Jadavpur, in Kolkata on May 01, 2015.

The Union Minister for Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, Dr. Harsh Vardhan addressing at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), at Jadavpur, in Kolkata on May 01, 2015.

India needs a brainstorming exercise to find out why it lacks Nobel Laureautes in science while those who migrated abroad are bringing laurels to the mother land, said Union Minister for Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan on Friday in Kolkata.

Wondering why Indian scientists have not received the Nobel prize after Sir C.V. Raman, who bagged the honour way back in 1930, he said, “We had one Nobel prize. We should also brainstorm over why no other Nobel prize after so many years.”

However, he sounded optimistic when he said that India can start dreaming now about getting a few in the foreseeable future. “That is possible,” the minister thundred during his visit to the 139-year-old Indian Association for Cultivation of Science (IACS) in Kolkata.

C.V. Raman, who made the path-breaking discovery on scattering of light in 1928, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics two years later. He worked at IACS from 1907 to 1933.

Pondering the Nepal earthquake, the minister said India’s early warning systems are “world class” and dismissed media reports alleging the country’s monitoring and alert systems are not up to date.

“There is no technology to predict earthquakes. India’s early warning system is world class. Even for many other countries around the ocean, we are the ones helping them,” Vardhan said.

After the 2004 tsunami, India moved in the direction of setting up its own advanced early warning systems both in earthquake and tsunami detecting centres.

While, no technology available could provide early warning alerts on earthquakes, perhaps India should focus on some recent findings that animals can detect the tremors 23 days in advance of an earthquake.

The minister’s query stems from the fact that India is lagging far behind the West and now the East, especially behind Japan, China and South Korea in terms of Nobel science laureates despite having more than 1.2 billion people, with half of them science graduates.

Indian students are still influenced by the erstwhile views of respect and silent path of obeying elders than scientific vigour that requires questioning and independent thinking, according to Gautam R. Desiraju,  a professor of chemistry in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Perhaps the minister should ponder Desiraju’s reasoning for the inertia in the field of science research in India — the first, a feudal mindset and the second, an unquestioning acceptance.

In an article in Nature, Desiraju wrote: “Our cultural value system, backed by Hindu scriptural authority, has created a strongly feudal mindset among Indians. Centuries of servitude, right up until 1947, have made the average Indian docile, obedient and sycophantic. ‘Behave yourself and be rewarded’, is the pragmatic mantra.”

The first is our lack of the ability to question and dissent that is so essential to science. They just follow obediently.

Another feature peculiar to us is our unquestionable acceptance. “Geriatric individuals with administrative and political clout reinforce their positions so well that we are unable to eject them. So we hail scientists in their eighties, film actors in their seventies and cricketers in their forties.”

On academic appointments, he wrote: “In the smaller state universities, all sorts of irregularities occur in the name of caste-based reservations. In the more influential central institutions, appointments are often made incestuously, with students of a few senior researchers filling a disproportionately large number of vacancies, or with plain academic ‘inbreeding’. A good dose of regional parochialism completes the picture.” Corruption also breeds many institutions, he said.

Harsh Vardhan should revisit this stuff to revamp the system. Will he ever do it?




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