Sunday, January 07, 2007

Swaminathan Aiyar: C.N.R. Rao is "dead wrong"!

Brilliant scientists like CNR Rao, scientific advisor to the prime minister, can be dead wrong. They say that Indian science and technology are in crisis. Nonsense, technology has never been in better shape.

Read the whole thing. He says some interesting things. However, he gets back to the tired old stuff towards the end:

Why, then, do some scientists bemoan the decline and fall of science? Some (though not all) have the old Soviet mindset, glorying above all in indigenous technology in nuclear energy, missiles and space. Soviet scientists got unlimited sums for strategic goals, without having to worry about cost-effectiveness.

Aiyar is way off-base here. C.N.R. Rao is asking for more money basic scientific research; he's not -- as far as I can tell -- asking for more support for missile research and nuclear technology. By taking cheap shots at scientists seeking greater research funding, Aiyar is just betraying a lazy mind.

Perhaps Aiyar should read what an Israeli Nobel winner said at this year's Science Congress about the importance of basic research.


  1. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    C N R Rao is asking for more money to fund scientific research at elite institutes like ours. Don't we already have enough money?

    As several of your recent posts say, what we need is better universities, to train our young people. And these universities need to do world-class research and need the funding for it. I haven't read much by Prof Rao arguing for this. And within our existing infrastructure, the problem is not lack of funding, it's highly skewed funding.

    I think this is beyond the scope of Swaminathan Aiyar's article, he was talking of the current Indian context. Or maybe, as you say, he was lazy.

  2. Anonymous said...

    The crazy thing about Universities is that they have been utterly politicized. That too, politics at the State level, which is a lot cruder than the one practised by the Centre.
    So, you typically find non-academics populating the Senate, Syndicate and such bodies. So, pumping more money into existing Universities (with their skewed priorities, such as for instance, giving out Honorary doctorates to film actors) is money down the drain.
    This is why one gets better value for money by pushing it into newer Central research institutions...

    bala (from jnc)

  3. Abi said...

    Rahul: It's not clear to me that C.N.R. Rao is asking for money *only* for elite research institutions (ERIs). He has been asking for a greater level of funding for science in general (and I don't think he alone is responsible for most of it ending up at ERIs!). So, in this (limited) battle between Aiyar and Rao, I have to cry foul at the dirty tactics used by the former.

    Bala: Glad you dropped by. While some of what you said may be true, the way forward is to not give up on our universities, but to promote better governance through incentives. I wish Prof. Rao (and others who hold influential positions) pay more attention to the issue of how to modernize our universities.

  4. Anonymous said...

    Reforming Universities is a minefield. In the short term, it is best to bypass them for India to get done its yearly share of world scientific research. You must have read about the case of Lucknow University recently. Ditto everywhere. There is so much casteism and linguistic chauvinism in Univ.s, which are promoted by state government laws which makes them incapable of academic excellence.

    Note also that education is a state subject. Most state Univ.s are in a state of decay, whereas Central Univ.s (such as the one in Hyderabad, JNU, NEHU etc..) are in a better shape.

    Here is my prescription:
    Any University which gets even 1 paise of Central funds (say, UGC) should adhere to the following dictum:

    The fraction of faculty whose mother tongue is the official language of the state in which the University is situated, should not exceed 49%.


  5. Anonymous said...

    Reforming science education and research in universities/institutes. But note all of these are single PI (like CNR ) individualistic kind of research. But there is a whole body of basic scientific research excellence which is an outcome of big team of people. Where does India stand on this ? Is anybody pushing for growth/reform in this area like CNR ?

  6. Anonymous said...

    I don't think Bala's above suggestion will work at all because most people who were born and raised in metros will hardly want to move into any small town. And most people who come from abroad will not get a job for both themselves and their wifes in any other place other than big cities. So with the educational and economic structures hardly suitable for an kind of intermingling from different parts of the country, all the burden of faculty recruitment that can satisfy this language diversity will rest on people from small towns who I doubt will want to move to another state unless they don't get a job in their state.