Towards a scientific history

The article ‘Why do our scientists not speak out?’ by renowned scientist and science populariser Dr. D Balasubramanian appeared in the column Speaking of Science in Science and Technology feature on The Hindu on Thursday, November 13.

The Prime Minister’s remarks at a hospital inauguration on genetic engineering and plastic surgery being known in ancient India – citing mythological episodes for illustrations – drew criticism from historians and media persons. [In fact, plastic surgery was known. It is the parallel that is drawn to the story of Ganesha that stirred the debate] Though this criticism makes valid points on how it is rather fanciful and non-scientific to replace history with mythology and other elements of imagination, it falls short of talking about the science itself. It is this gap that Dr.Balasubramanian fills. He says the debate is an important and a necessary one, at a time when concerns are being voiced over the ideological influence of the political parties in power.

The author has articulated the idea that myth and science have to be carefully differentiated before assessing our scientific heritage, citing examples to show that both had a fair share in ancient India. It is pointless to use either side of the debate to denounce or deify the history. By stressing that the conflict is really between rational thinking and imaginative fantasy, and that the onus is on scholars to build the narrative of our past, the author steered the discussion away from religion and fundamentalism over which naysayers cry foul. This is the greatest merit of the article along with its clarity of thought and coherence.

[This is a part of an assignment to analyse a good piece of (print) journalism in my course Journalism for Scientists. It is unfortunate that there are not many science popularisers in the country; surely we can do better. Dr. Balasubramanian, a first grade scientists himself, is an inspirational figure in this field. He has written prolifically in science columns in newspapers. Do take time to go through the archive of his articles. I love to know what you feel about this post and the article referred to. Please comment, start a discussion.]

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