Post Mortem

Hijacking by pseudoscience: A threat to our legitimate sense of wonder

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 1/10/2019 10:39:30 AM IST

 “The less he understands something, the more firmly he believes in it.” Wilhelm Reich, Listen, Little Man!

The Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) owes its origin to the foresight and initiative of two British Chemists, namely, Professor J. L. Simonsen and Professor P.S. MacMahon. It occurred to them that scientific research in India might be stimulated if an annual meeting of research workers somewhat on the lines of the British Association for the Advancement of Science could be arranged. From this modest beginning with hundred and five members and thirty five papers communicated for reading at the first session, ISCA has grown into a strong fraternity with more than Forty thousand members till to date. 
The basic purpose of organizing Indian Science Congress convention has been to channelize, encourage and disseminate the research in the field of science. However, since last couple of years this very purpose has seen to have been defeated. Vocalising the pseudo-scientific beliefs about Indian mythologies has become a norm in the Indian Science Congress (ISC) for quite some time now. Scientific ideas, discoveries and scientific temperament have been taking a back seat. Ideas which has been backed by the unscientific hypothesis resulted out of pseudo-scientific approach has been given free wings. Mythological stories have been presented as scientific evidences. Where in the world will we ever find a mockery of science as we have been witnessing in the congregation of Indian Science Congress since last couple of years? 
The exhibition of wild encouragement to the pseudoscientific beliefs in 2019 106th ISC organized at Lovely Professional University, Punjab makes me nostalgic and takes me back to 2015 when Indian Science Congress was organized in Mumbai. December 2014, it was announced that Anand J. Bodas and his copresenter Ameya Jadhav, who claim that aircraft more advanced than today’s versions existed in ancient India, would be allowed to speak at the Indian Science Congress and present a paper on aviation in the Vedic age. The five-day conference of ‘Indian Science Congress’ was held at the Kalina Campus of the Mumbai University starting on 3 January 2015. The paper was presented on 4 January, as a part of the larger symposium on “Ancient Sciences Through Sanskrit”. Other papers presented in the symposium were “Engineering applications of Ancient Indian botany”, “Neuro-science of yoga: understanding the process”, “Advances in surgery in Ancient India” and “Scientific principles of Ancient Indian architecture and civil engineering”. The titles of the papers were then enough to spark a controversy in the world of science. Noted Indian astrophysicist and founding director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Pune, India, Prof. Jayant Narlikar (my everlasting inspiration in the field of Astronomy & Astrophysics) then reacted to the controversy saying that it was good to be proud of ancient Indian science but scientists should not make claims about things they did not have proof of. He commented, “We can boast of things but it should be restricted to what we have proof of. But we shouldn’t claim things of which there is no evidence or proof as it reduces the credibility of what our scientists have achieved in the past.” He further asserted, “Even the West recognizes the knowledge of mathematics held by Indians. If we start making outlandish claims, the scientific community of world will not look up to us as it does now”.
Economist and Nobel laureate Prof. Amartya Sen also then commented that some evidence is required in the controversial claims made in the Indian Science Congress regarding the achievements of ancient Indians. He said, “The idea that human beings can fly is known to human beings from birth. The idea that human beings might be able to be on the air has been talked about a lot. If that was true, then we would like to find some evidence.” Further, he elaborated, “As our epics show, Indians have thought about flying for a long time. But it would be fanciful to say that India invented the aeroplane. If ancient India had airfare technology, we would like to see some evidence. I agree there are a lot of claims that have nothing to do with achievements.” The strong remarks of Prof. Narlikar and Prof. Sen represents the perspective of hard-core scientific community towards the traits of nonsense and day-dreaming exhibited at one of the most prestigious intellectual platform.
The events of 2015 repeated in the congregation of Indian Science Congress which held from 3rd to 7th January, 2019 at LPU, Punjab. The moments of shame and sadness gradually unfolded on 5th of January, 2019 that the General President of Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA), Dr Manoj Kumar Chakrabarti, was evidently embarrassed about; something that the Principal Scientific Adviser to the PM, Dr K Vijay Raghavan, termed as ‘scientifically completely untenable’, something that he was worried could cause harm if it makes its way into state policy; something that prompted Bharat Ratna Prof CNR Rao to dissociate himself from ISC.
That something concerned a few claims made by some speakers at the congress, including Andhra University VC Prof G Nageshwara Rao and independent researcher Dr KJ Krishnan. The claims are as follows:
1. Kauravas were born with the help of stem cell and test tube technologies.
2. Lord Rama used ‘astras’ and ‘shastras’ while Lord Vishnu sent a Sudarshan Chakra to chase targets. This shows that the science of guided missiles was present in India thousands of years ago.
3. Ravana didn’t just have the Pushpak Vimana, but had 24 types of aircraft and airports in Lanka.
4. Theoretical physics – including the contributions of Newton and Einstein – is totally wrong. Gravitational waves will be renamed as ‘Narendra Modi Waves’ and gravitational lensing effect will be renamed as ‘Hashvardhan Effect’.
5. Space is heavier than the sun and every other planet hence compresses all the planets. Equal pressure is applied to them, which is why they are moving. 
6. Lord Brahma discovered the existence of dinosaurs on earth and mentioned it in the Vedas.
The aforementioned claims were based on the ‘beliefs’ of the two presenters backed by no concrete scientific evidences. As has been well known in scientific fraternity that ‘outlandish’ claim has no value in the world of science. It is also important to note that these nonsensical claims were made in Children Science Congress section of ISC where the majority of audience were children and the teachers. They were young students who would believe on anything and everything told to them in the name of science.
‘Meet the Scientists’ session of the Children Science Congress was not the platform for a scientists to ‘float’ their untested, unscientific, baseless, hollow, mythical ‘BELIEFS’ without any evidence and/or supporting mathematical models, in front of an audience who wouldn’t really be able to know as to how to critically distinguish what to accept and what to reject and how to challenge the manipulated theories and false perspectives. 
Being a self-taught Astronomer, self-taught Philosopher & Historian, a trained Lawyer as well as Social Scientist and a Professor of Political Science by profession, I myself, staunchly advocate the freedom of speech and free, full swing dissemination of ideas and theories however, everything that has been ‘floated’ without concrete ‘direct evidence’ must be rejected outright. Words spoken, especially before children and young audience who are incapable to understand the truth in them, must be rigorously peer-reviewed and extensively tested before delivery.
Human life is all about possibilities. In Science, we do not disregard the magic of ‘imagination and possibility’ however; one should not go astray from the discovered and discoverable laws and principles of science that govern our understanding. Moreover, if any scientist claims to have achieved a breakthrough in his research, then that discovery must be supported by strong verifiable evidence. This is what we Researchers understand as basic rule of ‘Discipline’ in Research. We cannot kick away our responsibility to provide/discover evidence by throwing the same on the shoulders of peers or future generations.
Man is born curious. Curiosity is a first step to the path of knowledge which takes us further to the truth and finally to the wisdom. However, let us understand that; manipulation, hidden political-religious agendas, false convictions, megalomaniac assertions and pseudo-scientific beliefs will take humanity to a cardinal ‘disaster’. IF people who have claimed to have been scientists are failing to provide credible evidences and presenting mumbo-jumbo before us, then we as members of scientific fraternity, the science enthusiasts, rational academicians and thinkers are bound to react with questions, extreme caution and absolute suspicion.
Lastly, if person is making a claim, the onus is absolutely on him to supply the evidence for examination. This is how the science works. If claimant could supply the evidence, his peers will test it, push it through the experiments and see whether the same results can be obtained or not. The peers will further explore every possible way to falsify the claim, and if every such attempt ends up supporting the ‘claim in question’ then and then only it will be considered valid, acceptable and true. That’s the character, beauty and rigour of science. Science does not work on BLIND FAITH and BELIEFS or individual WHIMS, FANCIES and CRAZY VOLCANIC IMAGINATIONS. True scientist always keeps himself ready for questions and tests.
Darwin said, “False facts are more dangerous than false views. They could lead one to lose his head in grand illusions rather than have one’s feet on the firm ground of scientific endeavour.” In the light of the wisdom of Darwin, as a part of humanity it is our ‘sacred’ duty to defend the science in the face of unscientific claims and mumbo-jumbo. Scientists may say what they say, and if they talk nonsense, they, as a consequence, will feel the heat from the scientific, thinking community. There are people in this world who can still think and capable to shatter the deceptive ‘Theories’. DO NOT TAKE SCIENCE FOR GRANTED!

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