nly 10 Indian scientists have found place in a recent list of 4,000 highly cited researchers (HCRs) globally, brought out by Clarivate Analytics, a company that chiefly offers subscription-based analytics, including scientific and academic research, and produces the list of people with multiple papers, who rank in the top 1 per cent by citations for their field in that year.
The silver lining for Odisha in the list is that one of the HCRs on the list is Sanjeeb Sahoo, a researcher working on cancer cure at Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar. But the representation of India on the list is deplorable, particularly when compared with the standing of our neighbour China. Even Pakistan and Egypt’s scores are better than that of India. That itself implies the age-old tired claim that researchers cannot work in a poor country has been proven false again and again over the years.
The three nations, US with 2,639, UK with 546 and China with 482 have topped the list. What is worse is that China had been at par with India only 15 years back. One of the researchers has commented on the matter and said that India’s situation had been even more deplorable until last year at five and that the country’s standing has improved only after the inclusion of an additional category, namely, ‘cross field’. The question that arises in this context is: What has held a vast country like India back while China and even Pakistan push ahead in leaps and bounds within the same time frame? The one common answer is that Indian society is not a research oriented entity. The claim that the country is still largely conducting research in theoretical science and not applied science is sadly lame. While Indian research straggles behind the rest of the world, neighbouring nations have shown promise in diverse scientific fields, be it defence, space programmes or genetic engineering. Recently, a Chinese scientist even ran into controversy after announcing results of his research on gene editing, which had the potential to help produce humans with customized genetic makeup. He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist and team claimed to have altered the DNA of female twins in a way that made them avoid infection from HIV. The scientist and his team came in for flak from around the world for the work. Perhaps what is happening in China cannot be replicated in India; but surely there is great space for applied research to grow in this country.
Let us shift our focus inwards now. This past Saturday, at the 106th Indian Science Congress held at Jalandhar, the scientific community of India must have been amazed at a brand new thought process being introduced. The Vice Chancellor of Andhra University, Professor G Nageswar Rao, while presenting a paper at the Meet the Scientists session on ‘Science in the Indian Way of Life’ said the ‘evil Kauravas of the Mahabharata were test tube babies…’. During his speech he said, “How can a woman give birth to 100 children in one life-time? The Mahabharata says that 100 fertilised eggs were put into an earthen pot, isn’t it a test tube baby? Stem cell research happened in this country thousands of years ago.” Obviously the damage was done. He also said that Dashavatara was a better theory of evolution than Charles Darwin’s while a second speaker said physicists like Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking were all wrong. While it may be noted that Professor Gangadhar of the Indian Science Congress Association was quick in his rebuttal and said it would be enquired how such a topic came to be discussed at the conference, the seed of non scientific thinking had grown stronger. This kind of antiquated thinking had kept India behind the rest of the world all through the 20th century. The same mindset growing roots and getting stronger even in this new century is certainly troubling to all those who wish to see a vibrant and strong new India emerge on the global scenario.
The situation is made even more precarious by the excessive tilt towards religion. We may recollect Prime Minister Narendra Modi having attributed Ganesha with an elephant head to development of plastic surgery in ancient India. These thoughts, coming from people with great spheres of both political and social influence, manage to weaken the very notion of modern scientific temperament and its development. Because of such kind of thinking, the country today produces lots of general job seekers. Without scientific temper and outlook, as a race, India has never searched for perfection. This has resulted in the creation of a nation state that meanders along without purpose. It is incapable of creating specialists.
The country today is in need of innovation in all fields, right from the most vital sectors such as food production, health and energy. But the fact that we are still one of the world’s biggest markets for goods produced elsewhere and our dreams of self sufficiency are still more pipe dreams are enough to dishearten even the most enthusiastic researcher. The list appears to only reaffirm a view held in our colonised past that this is a nation of people lacking scientific temper. We are considered good servants. Even the drive for skill development has turned out as another effort to produce more qualified factory workers, none should become innovators. Sadly, Indian parents of the more economically successful bracket want their kids to be toppers at IITs, IIMs or such like institutions only to fetch higher pay scales at Deloitte or Google or some similar corporates abroad. Yet, they still want their children to serve, get a job and live life Servant size.
As long as we mix up our religious past with our hopes of creating a modern society, we will always remain as laggards. It will not be Mahabharata, Ramayana or the Puranas that will make the India of tomorrow. It can only be an uncompromising scientific temper and outlook instilled in every citizen that will make us strong.