No unfounded claims, please: Scientists to organisers of Indian Science Congress 2020

The petition, from a group of eminent scientists, doctors and researchers, invokes Article 51A(h) of the Constitution which talks about developing a scientific temper.
No unfounded claims, please: Scientists to organisers of Indian Science Congress 2020
No unfounded claims, please: Scientists to organisers of Indian Science Congress 2020
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A group of eminent scientists, doctors and researchers have petitioned the General President of the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) urging him to prevent unscientific discussions at the upcoming Indian Science Congress.

Invoking Article 51A(h) of the Constitution, they said the objective of ISCA is to build a scientifically literate country and mould younger generations empowered with critical thinking and scientific temper.

Article 51A(h) mandates that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.

The petition comes ahead of this year’s ISC, following unscientific claims made in the last few years at the annual event. This year’s event will be held between January 3-7 at the University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK Campus in Bengaluru and will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This time the theme of the flagship event is Science & Technology: Rural Development.

The petition initiated by India March for Science, Bengaluru addressed to KS Rangappa, ISCA’s General President, reads, “We also wish to remind you of the rather unwarranted and unpleasant publicity that the last few ISCs have received due to the unscientific claims made by a few speakers. For instance, in ISC 2019, there were claims on the birth of Kauravas with stem cell and test tube technologies, the existence of the science of guided missiles and different types of aircraft and airports in ancient times etc, apart from disparaging remarks about the valuable contributions of Newton and Einstein. Most of these claims were made, shockingly enough, in the Children Science Congress section of ISC 2019 where the audience largely comprised of teachers and young students.”

Speaking with TNM, Jayanth Murthy, Professor at Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Astrophysics, said, “Last year there were incredible claims made by many speakers, including those by the VC of Andhra University. These hurt us in many ways. But alarmingly that statement made was for children, who are very impressionable. So we want only published works that have a solid scientific basis to be presented.”

He added, “We should particularly be careful when we speak to children, about being confident that whatever we are telling them is the best information that we have. When you tell children these unfounded stories, it makes you wonder how credible the VC himself is?”

Another signatory, Jyostna Dixit, a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Ecological Science in the Indian Institute of Science, said, “We want to let the organisers know that it’s a good initiative to hold the Science Congress, but last time some speakers discussed irrelevant things that had nothing to do with science. So we wanted to ensure that no one conveys any unscientific claims from that platform as many people look up to them as role models. We want the event to be focussed on science and nothing based on any other agenda.”

She added, “Last time the audience was not allowed to ask questions in some sessions. We don’t want a repetition of that. This is not good, because in science we go about asking questions and having open discussions. People should be allowed to ask questions.”

The petition also states: “When agrarian crisis has gripped the country and the contribution of the farming sector to GDP has stagnated, the discussions on policies and mechanisms to tackle agrarian distress and farmers empowerment along with issues concerned with climate change, biodiversity and conservation as elaborated by you and UAS Vice-Chancellor S Rajendra Prasad and as reported in the press, are very much necessary. We wish the Congress, a great success.

The petition points out that the negative publicity of the previous incidents had even prompted Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the PM, to voice his concern.

The petition also mentions how that ISCA passed resolutions seeking declarations from all invited speakers to ensure that they would not make any irrational and unscientific claims and to seek an advance copy of the summary of speeches from all invited speakers.

It further adds, “We hope that the lapses in the selection process that led to this fiasco are thoroughly scrutinised and addressed. We hereby urge you to ensure that any possibility of recurrence of any such unscientific claims from the platform of ISC 2020 is strictly avoided.”

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