Saturday, March 17, 2007

Questioning the 'public morality' of the Mashelkar Panel

Today's ToI carries a stinging critique by Sudhir Krishnaswamy, who is on the faculty the National Law School University of India (NLSUI):

Policy-makers and government functionaries cannot be swayed by the forms and fashions of discourse and must advance the 'public interest' in all circumstances.

To meet this demanding standard, policy-making must be an exercise in elaborate public reasoning — where policy-makers consider varied interest group positions and reconcile them in a coherent fashion.

TEG has completely failed to meet this standard or appreciate its role. Recent disclosures point out that the central conclusions in their report are directly reproduced — without citation — from a consultancy research paper.

Mainstream media debate in the last fortnight has focused on the charge of plagiarism. But an equal, if not more serious concern, is interest group capture.

In the absence of a vigilant civil society which exposed these faults, the plagiarised conclusions would have masqueraded as the 'official view' and may have even secured government approval.

The public morality of the policy formulation process is of far greater consequence than the personal morality of TEG members that the charge of plagiarism highlights. ...

In the first part of his column, Krishnaswamy counters Shamnad Basheer's defence of his work against allegations of bias:

The author of the paper defends the academic integrity of his paper by citing his university affiliations as a law professor and a doctoral student, and insists that since his paper satisfies the highest academic standards, only academic objections are relevant.

For an academic to claim that one's research is both neutral and not compromised, it is not sufficient to merely belong to an academic institution in the formal sense.

Other conditions under which the research is carried out are relevant as it is necessary to prevent a potential blurring of the lines between one's role as an academic researcher and as a consultant.

A fundamental requirement for the paper to be an academic paper is that one should not receive financial assistance from any party which has a commercial interest in the outcome of the research.

The 2005 paper was funded by INTERPAT which consists of multinational pharmaceutical companies directly concerned with findings of TEG.

It would make little difference if the paper had been funded by Indian generic pharmaceutical companies.

In either circumstance, we must conclude that research done under these conditions is 'consultancy' research which represents the concerns of a particular interest group.


  1. Anonymous said...


    views that do not matter unless u wish to look below the surface
    18 March 2007
    discourse in public life

    how do we debate an issue. Is it necessary that we always look for motives for an action? There are three things in any interaction that we ought ( moral ought!!) to look at : action, intention and consequences. We can see actions, consequences but intentions have to be inferred. How do we infer intention?

    Gramsci , a great thinker once said, in war we attack the enemy at his weakest. But in intellectual debate, we attack the enemy at his strongest. Prof P C Joshi who quoted Gramsci in one of his article on social discourse was himself a great thinker (see Carl Cuneo's notes on Gramci, see Trotsky's attack on Labiola; his thoughts summarized at this site are" Gist is that in political and military struggle, one takes on the weakest links in order to break through and attack the strongest parts of the opponent; however, in ideological struggle, one takes on the strongest links, or the strongest intellectuals in the opposing camp" ibid, downloaded on march 18, 2007). A slight digression.

    Once in an interview, when the chairperson commented that the candidate was brilliant but inexperienced, he asked, what is experience, one year multiplied by ten, that is the same thing done over and over again makes one more experienced, he asked. He had already asked question to this candidate about the latest articles in Journal of peasant Studies and a great deal more. Well, leaving that aside, because one can imagine what that chairperson, an eminent(yes, eminent!!) public figure today, would have done. Let me get back to intentionality.

    Do we infer the intentions from a single action, or put these in a series of conduct. Which series of actions do we put this incident in? series of public action, series of private action, series of academic actions? The meanings are often a product of the context in which we put an object or an action. Change the context, the content changes. But not always, some people achieve a rare consistency in private and professional so that the actions of their actions will not change no matter which series is used. But then series plays an important role.

    Let us go forward. Let us say that the action that we have to analyze has been placed in a context chosen by the antagonists. But what about their actions, the context of their prior actions and thoughts, and their motives, and their concerns. Should it not be possible to pursue
    a public discourse based on the objective facts( Ah!! objective facts, are these possible??).

    Should public have to understand a whole range of intentions, motives and the rest to be able to understand a discourse? How are we sure that the motives we infer are right. Or is it that once we decide what these motives are, we can pass the judgment without any evidence and that should be taken at its face value. The problem becomes even more complex when motives are attributed to one person for a task performed by a group. Are we implying that the other members of the groups are nicompoops ( who do we ask, the members?, each one of whom may have an eminence already established, or the commentators whose claim to eminence may, at best , yet to be established!!). But then why should society be burdened with such a logic which lacks a real argument about the facts, the possible consequences, to whom are we accountable after all|??

    We should remember that India is a culture where even any body on the street can ask a question and put actions of the establishment/ or eminent people in doubt. Lord Ram had to ( had to??) send
    his wife, sita to forest since her chastity was in doubt according to a commoner. Did this commoner have any credentials to have asked such a question, had Sita done any thing in past to warrant such an insinuation on her conduct, did Ram's confidence on his wife require certification by every citizen of the country, was it necessary. Why does society not question such acts of Ram or that commoner, and instead venerate Sita's compliance with this unjust judgment? I am digressing ( am i ?). Let me come back. The questions about motives, integrity and possible interest in expressing an opinion in public discourse would always command attention. The historical context of discourse tells us that double speak in public life is rampant. But does double speak characterize the conduct of academicians of repute, or only politicians, or other eminent(!!) men? Should an academic be judged on the basis of the quality of his credentials, publications in top journals of the world, or decisions in top committees of the public interest, or efforts to bring out the best in others, the less known, less established and struggling younger colleagues?

    How do we judge action of an academic, assuming that he makes mistakes, mistakes which are not expected and thus he/she tries to make amends for it. Are academics to be judged by a different criteria than the other eminent people?


    Should mistakes be the focus, or the substantive point? Should we argue about the interest of say consumers ( which consumers, middle class, or really poor, whose access to most resources is limited to the bare minimum) in a public issue or also the producers, should we talk about only large producers or also small producers? Should we allow a society to become creative by committing mistakes ( experimenting on technologies which mightn't succeed) and thus have a chance to generate small incremental innovations, or it remain an imitating society, or should it only aim at breakthrough innovations( no matter whether the past record may warrant such hopes or not). Should the threshold for invention be highest for promoting innovation by firms and farmers limited R and D capacity, or lower for promoting domestic innovations? Should possible moral hazards problem be tacked by inhibiting incremental innovations altogether, small and scattered and episodic as these may be, or should we tackle these by higher and more rigorous standards of regulations governing public access to those solutions.

    who can speak for common people:

    Let me take recourse to quoting Gramsci again ( as quoted at Cuneo, ibid),
    p. 418 (in the Essay, "Passage from Knowing to Understanding and to Feeling and vice versa from Feeling to Understanding and to Knowing") in the context of trying to argue that intellectuals in a nation can only lead the ruled if they can connect their knowing with understanding and the latter with the feelings=passion of the masses: does this refer back to Gramsci's notion of the materialism of sensation in the masses??...."If the relationship between intellectuals and people=nation, between the leaders and the led, the rulers and the ruled, is provided by an organic cohesion in which feeling=passion becomes understanding and thence knowledge (not mechanically but in a way that is alive), then and only then is the relationship one of representation. Only then can there take place an exchange of individual elements between the rulers and ruled, leaders (dirigenti) and led, and can the shared life be realised which alone is a social force -- with the creation of the 'historical bloc' ".

    I do not know what are my credentials to say all this, let the readers figure out and attribute motives to me, my action and reflection here.