ISC, solid science and credible scientists notwithstanding, gets hijacked by pseudoscience
Each year,the Indian Science Congress (ISC) seems to sink a bit further. To be sure, not all of the papers presented are on how Kauravas (from the Mahabharata) were bona fide test-tube babies (at the latest ISC) or on India’s fleet of 40 inter-planetary vimanas from “ancient times” (ISC 2015)—the intent behind such papers is to restore the glory of ancient India’s scientific achievements, an enterprise that has seen renewed interest in the past few years. The Kaurava claim was made by Andhra University vice-chancellor G Nageswara Rao. In front of an audience that included school-going children, Rao, a professor of chemistry, also said that Ravana had 24 aircraft and Sri Lanka had airports “in the times of the Ramayana”. Another gentleman, a scientist from Tamil Nadu, said Einstein and Netwon misled the world, and that gravitational waves will be renamed “Narendra Modi waves”. Even if genuine science makes for the bulk of the ISC, it is Rao’s ilk that draws the world’s attention.
Science in ancient India could do with greater attention, but only when it is science. The vimana paper draws from a text called Vaimanika Shastra, believed to have been authored by Rishi Bharadwaj. Scientific studies, however, trace its origins to a less haloed individual from 1904 AD (clearly not “ancient India”). Several experts have independently concurred that the laws of aerodynamics don’t support the possibility of the Vaimanika Shastra’s vimanas even taking off, much less hopping between planets. Genuine scientists, who suffer a collective cringe as news of such claims hits, have called for better vetting and the government to stop funding ISC if such standards continue. But, with PM Narendra Modi himself having likened Ganesha’s elephant-head to “plastic surgery in ancient India”, that seems unlikely.