"Science" in India

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 19 03:59:13 UTC 2000

>The unusual attraction of Indian engineers for pop-Hindu
>mythologized history (think of Rajaram, Kak, or many
>correspondents on this List) makes a lot of sense if we consider

No, it makes no more sense than the attraction of Sir Arthur Keith of the
Royal College of Surgeons, London, and Grafton Smith, fellow of the Royal
Society, for the Piltdown man "fossil". It makes no more sense than the
endorsement of the Piltdown "finds" by Sir Arthur Smith Woodward of the
British Museum's department of Natural History. In all this hoopla over one
person who is rather insignificant in the larger picture, do not shove the
original British Piltdown hoax under the carpet. All those people received
the best science education and honors of their times, and a good "classical"
education too. They were not "trader's apprentices" who rose in their

It makes no more sense than the attraction of Israeli mathematician, Eliyahu
Rips, for finding hidden codes in the Torah, and the American reporter,
Michael Drosnin, for writing a bestselling book on it, called The Bible Code
(Simon & Schuster). Israel is not particularly noted for mediocrity in its
education system. I presume Mr. Drosnin had a good humanistic education in
the USA. The folks at Simon & Schuster undeniably had the best training.
They spotted a bestseller and successfully marketed it to gullible millions.
I have also met sufficient numbers of scientists in the US, who are willing
to concede that there is something special about the "codes" in the Torah.
Unsurprisingly, this attitude has a strong correlation with their personal
religious beliefs and background. When it comes to religion, nation, culture
and tradition, people are often quite happy to throw logic out of the
window, or they at least willingly suspend their disbelief, often with
unfortunate effects.

Besides, if according to you, most of these producers of pop-Hindu fantasies
are expatriate Indian scientists and engineers, do remember that Western
governments, universities and businesses thought that their bachelor's
degrees from India were good enough to pass muster. They continue to do so,
going by the numbers of Indian students admitted to graduate programs in the
West. All these guys that bother you so much got their graduate degrees in
science and engineering in good old USA, and to a lesser extent, from
European universities. The problem with Indian science is not in the
teaching of it at an undergraduate level, but in the higher level research
that is being done in India. CSIR, NCL and other such bureaucratic research
organizations have little to do with undergraduate science education. There
are other bureaucratic megaliths around to take care of that, like the
University Grants Commission (UGC) and the National Council of Educational
Research and Training (NCERT), with an entirely different set of problems on
their hands.

I don't claim that all is fine in India. But there is a deeper problem
behind it.

>the current abysmal state of Indian scientific education. See the
>scathing cover story in the current issue of OUTLOOK, which among
>much else laments the "widespread plagiarism," "pervasive
>mediocrity," "mountain of junk papers, with a very low citation
>index," and undue emphasis on military technology that currently

Read the very next phrase in the article after the word plagiarism. When
scientists in India complain of widespread plagiarism and denial of credit,
they are referring to the practice of their head honchos in appropriating
the results of and claiming credit for other people's work. How else does
the CEO of a big lab get his name on every paper and every patent that is
ever produced from that lab? This attitude percolates down - the head of a
smaller group denies credit to his subordinate scientist, that scientist
denies credit to his students and assistants. Now *that* is a pervasive
problem in India.

>characterizes Indian science. There obviously are many top-flight
>Indian scientists around -- some quoted in the article -- but on
>the average what passes for scientific education in India is
>abysmally poor. The emphasis on narrow technological training,
>moreover (resulting, as the article puts it, in "an army of
>techno-coolies") means that most Indian engineers and scientists
>receive virtually no humanistic training at all.

Steve, this is a completely unwarranted leap in reasoning. I say this in all
possible friendliness - you are just so full of it. The article in Outlook
says zilch about the humanities requirements, or even the science courses at
the teaching level. It only talks about the higher level research in science
and technology. In case you didn't notice, there is a difference between
teaching and research. The fault lies with the Indian educationists who have
not integrated the two in their myopic and bureaucratic vision.

If you want to know the real problem with the humanistic training
obtained by Indian scientists, it is with those who specialize in the
humanities. I am sorry to say this, but there is NOBODY of any caliber
getting into the humanities in India today. There are whole mountains of
economic, social, political and cultural reasons for why Indians avoid
specializing in those fields. After they move out of India, these reasons
get attenuated, and their interest picks up again. If you think Indian
science students do not get sufficient humanistic training, let me let you
in on a secret. On the average, Indian humanities students get very little
quality training. In the process, humanistic teaching for science and
engineering programs receives the lowest priority, not because the
scientists are blocking it, but because the humanists often couldn't care

Simply put, the HSS courses that are taught to Indian science students are
ill-designed, if they are not outdated. A course in psychology, for example,
fills an entire semester with nothing but Freud. Which may be fine if you
are going to specialize in psychology, but not if you have to learn math and
physics and chemistry too. An introductory course in philosophy deals with
nobody other than Hegel, often taught by someone who knows very little
indeed about Hegel. In Indian education, philosophy died after Hegel.
Sociology and anthropology are dominated by Marxist ideologues. There is
hardly any discussion of Geertz or Dumont or Marriott or Stein. Field
studies, according to those who make decisions in Indian education, have not
progressed beyond Margaret Mead. So it is not that Indian science education
provides for no humanistic education. It does, but it provides an extremely
lopsided and outdated version of it. That is the reason why some people keep
flogging dead horses. They grew up surrounded by the stench of the rotting

The privileged distance enjoyed by people outside India may be good to spot
certain things. However, the telescope is sometimes the wrong instrument to
use, you know. If you want to comment about some of the real problems of
contemporary India, use the microscope instead. If people here don't like
the spectacle of a few scientists putting their feet in their mouths when it
comes to Indological issues, at least do us the courtesy of not
pontificating on things that you in turn know little about. Do your homework
right, and don't jump to conclusions.


ps. What exactly do you mean by pop-Hindu? Is there anything specially
"Hindu" about it? As one interested in comparative studies, would you call
the to-do about the The Bible Code pop-Judaic? Isn't it even pop-Christian?
Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com.

Share information about yourself, create your own public profile at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list