Vocalising the pseudo-scientific beliefs about Indian mythologies has become a norm in the Indian Science Congress (ISC) for quite some time now. Scientific ideas, discoveries and scientific temperament have been taking a back seat. This years’ ISC is also no different. Two lectures at the ISC including by an acting vice chancellor have sparked controversies in the science community of the country.
Andhra University Vice Chancellor G Nageswara Rao, who is a professor of inorganic chemistry, claimed that the Kauravas of Mahabharata, the Indian mythological epic, were born out of stem cell research and test tube fertilisation process. Rao said, “It happened a few thousand years ago. This was science in this country. Mahabharata says, 100 eggs were fertilised, and put to 100 earthen pots. Are they not test tube babies? Stem cell research in this country was present thousands of years ago”.
He went ahead saying that Ravana, the character from another epic Ramayana, had aircraft of 24 different types, and Sri Lanka, at that time, had airports. He did have his theories about evolution also where he challenged the Darwinian Theory, and claimed that the “Dasavatara” – 10 incarnations of lord Vishnu – was much advanced in explaining the evolution. Rao made these statements in a session that consisted mostly of children.
K J Krishnan, the other supposed scientist, during the same session, explained the theories of Einstein and Newton. He declared that Newton and Einstein had little knowledge about physics, and they misled the world with their theories. He claimed his own theory of gravitational phenomenon will be proved more pertinent in the future, and when it is accepted, what the world now knows as gravitational waves would be named as “Narendra Modi Waves”, and the gravitational lensing would be known as “Harsh Vardhan Effect”.
Protest in front of IISC Bangalore against unscientific statements made at ISC 2019
These comments have invited reactions and protest from the science community. On Sunday, IT professionals, students, teachers and scientists gathered in front of the IISC main gate in Bangalore to protest the utterly unscientific claims made at the ISC. The protest was jointly organised by Breakthrough Science Society, All India Peoples Science Network, Akhila Karnataka Vicharavadigala Vedike and others.
Holding placards with slogans like “Don’t denigrate science in India”, “Stop spreading unscientific ideas in the name of science”, “Defending science in India is true patriotism” etc., the protesters condemned the irrational statements in the ISC. Among the people that led the protest demonstration were Jayanth Murthy, professor at Indian Institute of Astrophysics and Sathish Kumar, the state president of the Breakthrough Science Society.
The Breakthrough Science Society, a body active in propagating science and scientific temperament, said that the “chauvinistic claims” about ancient India made before young minds was very much distressing. “Puranic verses and epics are poetic, enjoyable, contain moral elements and rich in imagination, but not scientifically constructed or validated theories,” the body said in a statement.
The All India Peoples Science Network, in their press statement, has demanded that the president, the scientific advisor to the PMO, the three Indian Science Academies and the Indian Science Congress Association step in to end this repeated misuse of the Indian Science Congress since 2014 to spread pseudoscience and irrationality.
The press statement also says, “The assertions made at the Indian Science Congress by the Prime Minister in 2014 (ganesha as symbol of plastic surgery), the Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Harsh Vardhan in 2018 (quoting Stephen hawking as saying mass energy equivalence is from vedas) and other invited speakers (2015- Anand Bodas: aviation in ancient india; 2016- Pandey: Siva as environmentalist, Sharma: conch blowing health benefits) are against the spirit of the directive principles of the constitution regarding the need to inculcate scientific temper. Moreover, the stated vision of the Indian Science Congress is “To inculcate scientific temper among the common people”.”
Principal scientific advisor says that government has no role in deciding the agenda of ISC:
K Vijay Raghavan, the principal scientific advisor to the government has said that the government does not play any role in deciding the agenda or the speakers of the ISC. “The Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA) does not have a filter and the government "rightly has no role in the matter", he said.
However, Raghavan criticised G Nageswara Rao, and said his claims about the stem cell research and the Kauravas are “scientifically untenable”. Raghavan also said that the chancellor of Andhra University should complaint formally against VC Rao.
“Scientists say what they say, and if they talk nonsense, they will feel the heat from the community. It is indeed unfortunate that a sitting Vice-Chancellor of a great state university, a biologist to boot, says something that is scientifically completely untenable," Vijay Raghavan said in a blog.
The 106th Indian Science Congress 2019, held at Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Also Read: India Facing Ongoing Assault on Scientific Temper.