The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth — Garry Kasparov
Almost the entire world is faced with COVID-19 pandemic which led to the unprecedented public health crises around the world but India is the only country which is simultaneously dealing with the large scale humanitarian crises.
Mind you this has no relation to corona-virus, if it had, the situation in some of the economically poor countries as in Africa and politically disturbed countries like Syria, Iraq or Pakistan would have been worst.
This has to deal with the lack of political will towards the issues that matter the most for the citizens to the sheer lack of vision to manage the crises.
These days, we see most of the decisions our politicians are taking show no respect for the facts, considerations of fairness, objectivity and justice for people.
Forget about their commitment to values of humanity, secularism, and democracy to which they pay nothing more than lip-service. This holds as much for politicians as for the most of the bureaucrats, judges, police, scientists and other intellectuals.
Contemplating this decline in our collective thinking and degrading values, I strongly feel developing the spirit of the ‘Scientific temper’, not only in our children but also in every section of our society is the need of the hour.
In this blog post, you will learn about the term scientific temper. You will also read about a massive assault on scientific temper and truth.
Scientific temper is not merely a topic to be covered in a text-book of science but it is more of an attitude to be developed and a way of life to be incorporated in our personality.
It is not a question of either this or something else, it must be a part of our lifestyle without any second thought.
Technically speaking, scientific temper is a way of life – a process of thinking and acting – which uses a scientific method and involves: questioning, observing reality, testing, hypothesizing, analyzing and forming a concrete theory. It further describes an attitude which involves the application of logic.
In simple words, a refusal to accept anything without testing and trial is the beginning of a scientific temper. The first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru used this phrase for the first time in 1946 where he coined it in his famous book ‘The history of India’.
The idea of evolving India into a rational society where all citizens have a scientific temper and rational approach had been fundamental to the vision of Independent India. The Article 51A (h) of the Indian Constitution itself lays importance to scientific temper as a fundamental duty of a citizen when it says:
These days some politicians along with their party workers are deliberately propagating a malicious narrative to certify certain people as anti-national.
But, I believe that we are surely more patriotic than these self-certified nationalist if we are adhering to our constitution.
Systematic Killing of Scientific temper
Scientific temper teaches us to ask questions, but the freedom to ask questions is equally important if we aim to develop as a democratic society.
However, in recent times, irrational and unscientific activities are growing at an alarming pace. Obscurantist (who deliberately hide facts) forces have grown in power and status with the government’s support, while people expressing scientific outlook, critical thinking and showing dissent are being suppressed and intimidated continuously.
Here are some noteworthy observations revealing the massive assault on scientific temper and truth:
Pseudoscientific Claims by Politicians
I will just scroll through a few pseudoscientific statements from our politicians in recent times:
- The junior education minister in Indian Government, Satya Pal Singh claimed “Darwin theory of evolution is scientifically wrong”. You know why! Because either he or his ancestors have never seen a monkey turning into a man. And mind it! he is holding the second-highest position when it comes to framing education policies.
- Another MP from Gujrat, Shankarbhai Vegad claimed in Rajya Sabha “Dung and urine from a cow can cure cancer ” He further claimed, “I am witness to it, cow dung and urine are 100 per cent cure for cancer.”
- Last year Pragya Thakur, a Loksabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, claimed that she cured her Breast-Cancer by taking urine and other products from a cow. However, her Oncologists later debunked her claims. She further insisted that rubbing a hand on the cow in a specific manner can reduce an individual’s blood pressure.
- Current Chief Minister of Tripura, Biplab Dev used an example from Mahabharata to claim that ancient Indians invented the internet thousands of years ago.
- Another Cabinet minister in the ruling government Mr Ramdas Athawale suggested a ridiculous cure for COVID-19. He demonstrated it in front of media, wherein he chanted a sacred text (mantra) ‘Go Corona Go – Corona Go’ and repeated it several times.
- Let me give you the latest example of ignorance from our elected representatives. Mr Arjun Ram Meghwal, Union Minister in the ruling government just launched a ‘Bhabiji Papad’ and claimed that it can generate antibodies against the novel coronavirus.
These are but few recent examples of the systematic killing of scientific temper by our policymakers.
Avalanche of Assault on Scientific temper by People of Influence
When irrational statements from ordinary people can do a lot of damage imagine the magnitude of damage it may cause if such false claims come directly from the mouths of most influential people like the heads of a State.
To my understanding, the negative impact in such cases would amount to an avalanche-effect in undermining the scientific temper of the entire country.
As it happens, we often hear such silly and ridiculous statements from these heads of the states.
Unfortunately, they don’t give a damn about it and in the hindsight, 99 times out of 100, they never apologise for such remarks owing to their arrogance.
Here are a few eye-catching instances giving a cue of a massive assault on scientific temper and truth:
Ignorance of Prime Minister
It has been seen that preachers or readers often literally take up the symbolism used in religious books, originally meant to convey a specific lesson in some context.
For instance, in Hindu Mythology, Lord Ganesha and his elephant-like appearance is symbolism for calm demeanour and strength.
In October 2014, while addressing a gathering of doctors, the same mythological fable was misinterpreted by our PM Modi as the evidence of first-ever plastic surgery.
After this incident, I was not much disappointed by the PM’s statement than by the applause he received from his professional but scientifically illiterate audience.
Ignorance of Education Minister
Ramesh Pokhriyal, Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister in the current government is quite famous when it comes to pseudoscience and promoting false beliefs in society.
There is a whole list of his irrational claims but here I am just picking a few of those:
- At one occasion, he declared inside the parliament debate that modern science is a dwarf in front of astrology.
- At another occasion, he said that Hindu sages had conducted nuclear tests 1 lakh years ago.
- He also asserted in a convocation at IIT Kharagpur that Ram Setu – the hypothetical bridge between India and Sri Lanka was built by Indian engineers at ancient times.
- He further professed if Computer would ever speak, it would speak in the Sanskrit language.
However, Pokhriyal isn’t alone in fabricating bits of our history. He is only the latest in a long chain of ministers who have claimed that ancient India was the source of all the world’s knowledge and achievements.
Ignorance of the Government
On November 4, 2019, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while receiving the first Rafale Jet from France, performed an age-old ritual to ward-off the evils by breaking a coconut in front of the Rafale and placing a lemon under its tyres. Such precedents set up by the top leaders go a long way in solidifying the blind faiths and superstitions among the people.
When the novel coronavirus had just taken 130 lives and infected mere 6000 people across the world, India’s Ministry of traditional medicine or AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yunani, Siddha and Homeopathy) on January 29, 2020, issued an advisory advocating the preventive treatment against the COVID-19.
When contacted the president of Indian Medical Association (IMA) described the government’s advisory as ‘quackery’ and further asked, “The strains of coronavirus undergo mutations and changes. How can a generic treatment advisory be given?” Later in the day, AYUSH ministry modified its advisory focussing on the immunity-boosting aspects of herbal medicines rather than cure.
Ignorance of Academicians, Scientists and Intellectuals
Interestingly, being educated, or science professional is no guarantee that one must be having a scientific temper. Rather, most of the academicians and scientists do not withstand the technical definition of being educated or scientists in reality.
Here are a few worthy examples of such obscurantists, hinting a massive assault on scientific temper and truth:
- I was shocked when I first came to know about this fact: It is a well-established practice for ISRO, wherein they take the prototype of every new Satellite it launch in the Lord Venkateshwara Temple in Tirupati to seek the blessings of a deity.
- In January 2019, Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University Prof. G Nageshwar Rao, while speaking at 106th Indian Science Congress claimed Hindus pioneered the stem cell research. Quoting Mahabharata he said “We had 100 Kauravas from one mother because of stem cell and test tube technology”
- Presenting his research paper in the 106th Indian Science Congress, Geologist Ashu Khosla, an Associate Professor at Panjab University, said that it was the Hindu God Brahma who had first discovered dinosaurs. He further claimed that the dinosaur named Rajasuras originated in India and such findings may be located in the ancient Indian scriptures.
- Justice Mahesh Chandra Sharma, retired-judge of Rajasthan High Court in his farewell address said: “A peacock is a lifelong celibate”. He further went on to claim that the peahen gets pregnant after swallowing tears of a peacock.
Modern Factories of Generating Myths and Superstitions
Since the last couple of decades, an alarming trend is evolving in our country where people who claim to be godmen or mystics, manipulate people to follow certain occult and unscientific practices.
By quoting scientific-discoveries and misrepresenting them, they influence our minds to satisfy their agenda.
They deliberately misguide people to never question the content and philosophy of religious books. They somehow turn these vulnerable people into blind followers of a particular faith and belief system where they become an authority.
Such mystics have an objective to develop an unscientific approach in the minds of their blind-followers. Sadly, many of them have found an audience in the premier institutes of our country like the IIT’s.
I call this trending Baba-Culture in our country as the modern factories of generating myths and superstitions.
Furthermore, all the respective governments have ensured that such destructive factories do not remain far-away at some remote villages but reach the drawing-rooms of all households in the form of devotional channels.
Irrespective of their religious identity, the main objective of these channels is to make us idiots, superstitious and mentally sick human beings.
When all the constitutional bodies have miserably failed in developing scientific temper, the media and journalism could have naturally become the torchbearer. But, sadly it too has become a party in this shared crime of systematic killing of scientific temper.
If you have even one per cent common sense, you can easily gauge the criminal intent of all the media channels by the quality of content they offer.
At the moment, only a bunch of online digital platforms provide authentic and real information, which helps in fostering the spirit of scientific temper.
The nexus among politicians, babas and media are also self-evident with the fact that we have more than 50 so-called devotional channels to spread superstitions but not a single national science channel to promote scientific temper.
The quality of discourse in the mainstream media has fallen to such a low that people who spread pseudoscientific, irrational, communal and unverified but popular information are portrayed as nationalist or more patriotic.
On the other hand, those expressing logic, reason and questions the authorities are depicted as anti-nationals.
These tactics used by morally corrupt media has adversely affected the social behaviour to large extent. Now, people openly declare their beliefs in pseudoscience, superstition and quackery on any public forum. They rather feel proud about it, the launch of Bhabiji Papad by Union Minister is a testimony to this fact.
Having learned about the massive assault on scientific temper and truth. I want to re-emphasise with the words of IIM Alumi – Prakash Shesh that “It is not a fight between science and religion. It is a fight between you and irrationality.”
If I call you irrational, you will feel insulted for sure and fight with me. But as per the technical definition of irrationality, that’s how we all are behaving! Just think about it.
Let’s not waste any more time and realize that increasing scientific temper among our people is urgently needed. We must remember as long as we are willing, we can always develop the spirit of scientific temper.
Despite having differences of opinions, which is but obvious. I would love having your comments about this article.
- A Perspective on Scientific Temper in India by Subodh Mahanti, Journal of Scientific Temper, Vol-1, 46-62, 2013.