When Indian-origin, Nobel-winning chemist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan said earlier this week that he wouldn’t be attending the 103rd Indian Science Congress (concluded January 7) in Mysore, likening the annual meet to a circus, he opened a can of worms. Stalwarts of Indian science like BG Sidharth stretched the kitty of analogies a bit further, calling the congress a ‘Kumbh Mela of science’ where old cronies “meet and indulge in ‘you-scratch-my-back-and-I-will-scratch-yours’ exercise”, while PM Bhargava, founder-director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology said the event now was “an absolute waste of money”.
Like last year, this year too, the congress admitted discussions which would shame anyone with a scientific temper. While last year’s least scientific submission featured a Vedic-era sage’s alleged blueprints of the modern aircraft, thousands of years before the Wright brothers flew one for the first time, this year, there was a presentation titled “Blowing of the shankh (conch): An indigenous tradition for fitness and wellness”, which contended that blowing the conch helped check pyscho-somatic illnesses, without any hard evidence. The smallest of mercies was that the presenter was no scientist, but an additional-commissioner-rank IAS officer. The greater blow to the congress’s credibility came from the fact that it reviewed and admitted a paper by a botanist that tried to establish Lord Shiva, from the Hindu pantheon, as the “world’s greatest environmentalist”. Thankfully, the presentation never happened because the scientist took ill just as the news of the paper spread and was greeted with widespread lampooning. These may be the recent instances of the mockery the Indian Science Congress has become, but the meet has failed to produce anything significant, except the occasional admission by scientists as well as political leaders that Indian science is ailing. So, it would be perhaps better to go with BG Sidharth’s suggestion and use the money to fund science education instead of sponsoring the annual jamboree.