TODAY -

Developing a scientific temper is essential for Indian democracy to flourish

Dr. Syed Arshad Hussain *



In a statement our Vice-President Mr. M. Venkaiah Naidu said that the ultimate aim of science is to make people's life comfortable and happier as well as to inculcate scientific thinking. Science is the foundation of any society as it deals with truths of verifiable facts, logic and experiments. He also mentioned that inculcating scientific temperament among the society is key for the progress of societies and sustaining humanity (The Economic Times, 07 July, 2021).

The Inter Academy Panel on Ethics in Science has recently issued a statement emphasizing the need to protect rational thinking and scientific temper in the country. The statement needs attention as this is a rare expression of thought coming from the panel which represents India's oldest and the best science academies - Indian National Science Academy, Indian Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Sciences. It reflects the collective wisdom of the cream of Indian scientists.

Now the question is what is scientific temper? Is it really dealt with scientific community only? Scientific temperament has often been mistaken by common people as a concept far behind from social practice and reality, which is only important to the scientific community.

The term scientific temper is broadly defined as a modest open-minded temper-a temper ever ready to welcome new light, new knowledge, new experiments, even when their results are unfavourable to preconceived opinions and long-cherished theories.

It is a way of life, defined in this context as an individual and social process of thinking and acting, which uses the scientific method and which may, consequently, include questioning, observing physical reality, testing, hypothesizing, analyzing, and communicating. Discussion, arguments and analysis are vital parts of scientific temper.

It aims to inculcate the values of logical thinking and drive away superstition, religious bigotry, and all forms of pseudo science as well illogical arguments or demands. Scientific temperament leads to a state of mind where a man or woman makes decisions and acts according to a rational belief and logic, which can be tested and validated as and when required.

Irrespective of any academic background, every one of us must inculcate scientific mentality among ourselves. Over the years history has shown that to resolve and handle society's problems scientific approach is the best way.

Mistakes and logical fallacies can be avoided from being repeated by thinking scientifically. In general human being are emotional and passionate creatures and often make the wrong or biased decision when comes to matters of self interest. The scientific method helps us to make better decisions and provides a rational outlook towards decision making.

India is the first and probably only country in the world to explicitly adopt scientific temper in its constitution. In the forty second amendment in 1976, Article 51 A(h) was added under the Fundamental Duties that states "It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform".

However, unfortunately of late, irrespective of their positions, gender and age people of our country are behaving more irrationally. This reflects that the laxity of scientific temper both in rural and in urban area people. Further, their tendency to lean towards the mysticism is exposing. At the same time our system is unable in promoting scientific temper.

In recent past, we have seen a spike in the amount of pseudo science that has found its way into popular discourse. Theory of evolution has been denied on the grounds that no one had seen a monkey turn into a human. People have been asked to pat cows in specific ways to reduce blood pressure.

Ideas such as aero-planes had been invented in India during the Vedic period or that the Kauravas in the Mahabharata were test-tube babies. In certain cases scientific community is also involved in propagating such non-science issues. This sort of erosion of the scientific temper and the inability of the common citizen to differentiate fact from myth is a dangerous turn, not just for the furthering of Indian science, but for society as well.

The worst floods in Kerala have been a manifested as the anger of the god Ayyappan because some women have filed a case in the Supreme Court. In Kerala's Idukki, a man killed four members of his family in an attempt to gain divine powers. A couple in Uttar Pradesh killed their six-year-old daughter who had rickets after a self-claimed god-man said that this would ensure that their next child would be healthy.

In Tamil Nadu, a woman died during childbirth because her husband did not trust doctors and decided to deliver their baby himself, following YouTube videos. These are some examples but the actual list is infinitely long. Even there are numerous ongoing issues related to hatred between groups of different religious belief. Some times in the name of tradition, old belief and glorious past we refuse to accept modern science. But scientific temper teaches us that no matter how glorious our past, it cannot solve the questions of a completely different time the present or the future.

Instead of rejecting these cryptic statement or acts a group of fringe elements of the society are trying to capitalize it. Therefore, concerns expressed by science academies on scientific temper being under stress are valid. The statement by academy serves as a reminder to the nation that one of the fundamental duties enlisted in the constitution is scientific temper, which requires every citizen to uphold reason and rationality.

Developing a scientific temper and gaining scientific knowledge are two different things. A person who has studied science is more likely to develop a scientific temper than someone who has no knowledge of science. At the same time there is no guarantee that a science student will gather scientific temper always.

A person can be highly intelligent and yet incapable of independent thinking, while another person of average intellect could have an analytical mind. In other words, acquiring a scientific knowledge is a function of someone's intelligence but developing a scientific temper is a function of their values. Prof. K. S. Rajani, a spokesperson for Breakthrough Science Society, indicated that in India, even some scientists are superstitious.

In the following way we may improve scientific temper in our country

a) Develop more scientific spaces and communication centers both in the academic and social way of lives.
b) Must avoid the religious symbols at public institutions that are run by public funding.
c) It is highly necessary to separate the religion from science.
d) Propagation of science related to societal development should be done through different Govt. funded educational TV channels.
e) It is essential that the scientists and scientific institutions should have to come out of labs and reach the society explain various social events with logic and scientific manner.
f) All the government agencies should have to encourage science communication activities as a social responsibility to promote rationality, inquiry and questioning.
g) India is a multiracial country and with tradition-bound people so, to promote scientific temper among them a special attention to be taken for designing various programs community wise with the help of elite people from those groups.
h) The spiritual leaders of all religions should have to follow the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda, who strived hard for the promotion of rational thinking along with Vedanta instead of making the people more insipid.
i) The electronic media of the country should have to stop propagating irrational thoughts.
j) Need to form a monitoring committee for screening the spreading of unscientific information through media.

Scientific thinking would help unite India and to form a common aim for the elimination of poverty. Through a combination of economic planning, democracy, and the development of a scientific temper with universal education, India can attain its goal. Thus we could overcome the biggest challenges facing India at the time - communalism, poverty as well as casteism and flourish Indian democracy.

In this regard I would like to quote the iconic poem of Rabindranath Tagore - "Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls" in support of the scientific temperament.


* Dr. Syed Arshad Hussain wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is Associate Professor at Department of Physics, Tripura Univesity
and can be contacted at https://sahussaintu.wordpress.com/ or sahussain(AT)tripurauniv(DOT)ac(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on August 19 2021.



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