Structural biologist and Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan has said that talks at the Indian Science Congress should be vetted by serious committees. In an interview with The Hindu on Thursday, Ramakrishnan said the event should have lesser attendees and be depoliticised.
The 106th Indian Science Congress in Jalandhar last week attracted controversy when the vice chancellor of Andhra University, G Nageshwar Rao, on Friday claimed that India had the knowledge of stem cell research, test tube fertilisation and guided missiles thousands of years ago. Kanan Jegathala Krishnan, who claimed to be a senior research scientist at the World Community Service Centre in Tamil Nadu, said English physicist Isaac Newton had very little understanding of gravitational forces, while theoretical physicist Albert Einstein had misled the world with the theory of relativity.
“The talks need to be vetted by serious committees with the appropriate expertise,” Ramakrishnan said on Wednesday. “If despite the careful vetting, someone begins to spout nonsense, they should be ejected by the chair of the session.”
In 2015, Ramakrishnan attended the annual Indian Science Congress in Mumbai, and labelled the event a circus. Asked if the level of discourse has declined since 2015 due to pseudoscience, he said he had not attempted any comparison. But he added: “Why doesn’t the prime minister or other high officials speak out against this?”
Ramakrishnan said that the practice of politicians inaugurating the event may be commendable if it means that government officials support science. “Currently, there is too much politics among the organisers and scientists, and a lot of jockeying for who gets to sit on the dais when the prime minister speaks,” he said. The structural biologist said it is also not clear if there is presently much interaction between the prime minister and the scientific community at the event.
Ramakrishnan criticised the practice of flying in top scientists from abroad and then setting them up in VIP accommodations, where they have little interaction with young scientists.