Nature India | Indigenus

Raising a voice against anti-science

A peacock procreates by crying — there’s no sex involved, a peacock’s teardrops impregnate the peahen.

Panchagavya — a concoction of cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd and clarified butter (ghee) — has medical benefits.

Darwin’s theory of evolution is scientifically wrong — no one has ever seen a man turn into an ape.

Which of these sounds the most preposterous? (The last one questioning Darwin’s theory, by the way, was delivered yesterday by a minister in India’s Union cabinet.)

For a billion plus population in the world’s largest democracy, such embarrassing statements by people in positions of power have become alarmingly regular. So regular that some brush them aside with a smirk, some make a joke of them on Twitter and some rage over them during dinner table conversations. But here’s the scary bit: many — who either hero worship these people or are blinded or silenced by their stature — believe such random facepalm-worthy comments. And many, who should protest, stay quiet.

This promulgation of unverified ‘facts’ doesn’t even qualify as pseudoscience [dictionary meaning: a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method]. This is plain anti-science [dictionary meaning:  a set or system of attitudes and beliefs that are opposed to or reject science and scientific methods and principles].

Such statements by India’s politicians and people in powerful offices are bringing to a naught the scientific progress that this country is making in bits and pieces, with ambitions of becoming a science superpower.

Sample some more:

The elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha proves Indians practiced cosmetic surgery way before it is mentioned in medical texts.

or

Genetic science was present during the Mahabharata. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.

India March for Science

These are scary times for those who practice science in this country. An immediate letter of protest by India’s scientific community has challenged the minister’s anti-science blabber saying: “Statements such as ‘humans did / did not evolve from monkeys’ is an overly simplistic and misleading representation of evolution. There is plentiful and undeniable scientific evidence to the fact that humans and the other great apes and monkeys had a common ancestor.” The letter is in the right direction. So was ‘India March for Science‘ in 2017, though the country’s scientists had joined the global call belatedly.

Scotching pseudoscience and irrational thoughts is at one level, tackling the menace on a case-by-case basis with a letter of protest here or a march of solidarity there. But eradicating anti-science may need a deeper combing operation where scientists, science communicators and India’s science administration come together to make a bigger noise, a bigger dent.

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