Reading an editorial by eminent Indian scientist Raghunath Anant Mashelkar in Science today, I wondered why asking questions of senior scientists in this country is seen as a mark of irreverence. In the recent past, I have come across some highly regarded scientists who thought it was inappropriate to question their findings. Contrary to the very spirit of science, they have chosen not to answer my queries or simply replied in monosyllables that amount to not answering. I know of colleagues who have had similar innocent questions bounced off such firewalls.
When science can not answer uncomfortable questions, it ceases to be science. Mashelkar talks of adventurism in Indian science, of the Kite Flying Fund that saw not many fundable ideas, of bringing back the spirit of inquiry that made Ramans, Boses and Sahas and of not loosing sleep over such irreverence.
I have seen hundred times more ideas merrily floating in labs which don’t care too much about such centralised flow charts for free thought. Many of them are brutally shot down for their sheer craziness but those that survive are brilliant pieces of start-ups. That, I guess, is far democratic and profitable over labs that need written approval even to ideate! A scientist friend I was talking to the other day made a particularly bold statement that made me partly happy and partly concerned over his youthful optimism . “Bureaucracy is not something I am bothered about, I can handle that. The sole aim of my lab is to get a Nobel for India soon. That’s what keeps me going.” Good luck!
This week, while talking to another young and brilliant energy researcher spearheading social outreach programmes from one of India’s many IITs, I was convinced all’s not doomed for the free spirit of science in this country. It was heartening to hear about the many young researchers under him choosing careers in remote villages to produce alternative energy over cushy MNC jobs. He was proud of these success stories that came out of simple and humane ideas that fought not just the bureaucratic, social and economic system but the political as well. Kudos!
The spirit is alive. In pockets.