Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Science in India: "Quantity need not mean a loss in quality"

The Nature India portal features an interesting column -- The Quality - Quantity Conundrum -- by two colleagues of mine, Prof. Gautam Desiraju and Prof. M. Giridhar. [Note: the site requires (free) registration.] Here's a quick excerpt:

An earlier analysis on the contributions of the best 10 research institutions in these countries to their overall publication records showed that the premier Indian institutes contributed nearly 30% over the span of 25 years. This is in keeping with the sluggish Indian curve in figure 1. However, in China, the contribution of the top institutes has decreased from 53% to 39% during the period of 2002 to 2008, which coincides with the exponential overall growth in that country. Clearly this means that the second and third rung research institutes have begun to participate actively in research. This can only be possible if trained manpower who studied in the top institutes went on to teach and do research in these institutes.

* * *

While much of their analysis is admirably data-driven, I wish they didn't take a loose, evidence-free swipe at the reservation policy:

There is also a real need now to assess the consequences of the caste based reservation system. Where has 50 years of reservation taken us, in a world where no quotas are applied in competitive activity?

The issue may appear in the form of a hard-nosed question about the consequences of reservation, but this sort of rhetoric is intellectually lazy -- as lazy, in fact, as that flowing in the opposite direction: where has 60+ years of upper caste domination of higher education and scientific research taken us?


  1. Arun said...

    Spot on, Abi!

  2. Rahul Basu said...

    It saddens me that even noted scientists in India are often unable to rise above their caste-based stereotypical ideas.

  3. Anonymous said...

    ...where has 60+ years of upper caste domination of higher education and scientific research taken us?

    Abi do you really want to argue with facts? Conceding for your sake that the likes of GNR, Satish Dhawan, CNR Rao, Thanu Padmanabhan (Do Spenta Wadia and Dr. Obaid Siddiqui also count? Or are they by being non-Hindu automatically granted "reserved" status?) represent the van of upper caste domination of higher education and scientific research, we haven't done badly at all. Have we? On hte contrary there are institutions that have been destroyed by blockheaded "reservation" policies.
    Take the Univ of Madras that suffered a steep decline after the DMK booted out GNR in the late '60s (after Dr. A.L. Mudaliar then VC refused to kow-tow to the DMK thugs, and was eased out in favor of an ignoramus, Sundaravadivelu). Since then the Univ of Madras has not looked back. The record of India's most "reservation friendly" state, TN, in establishing and sustaining higher ed institutions is abysmal.

    Drs.Madras and Desiraju are right in hinting at the problem. The caste based reservation system among other things works with the objective of admitting/appointing/promoting/qualifying/graduating certain numbers from certain categories of people; and nothing else. It is not concerned with the quality or quantity of scientific output, and even dismisses it as irrelevant, as you seem to be doing now. In case you aren't it is up to you to offer evidence that this so called upper caste domination suppresses talent that has found avenues to prosper elsewhere.

    More later...