Indian Science Congress and GIAN reveal much on Media Priorities

Mainstream media in India has been reporting/discussing a lot about the recently concluded Indian Science Congress 2015 in Mumbai. An average reader/viewer of these reports/discussions would have deduced one thing: the science congress was a meeting of loonies and their research was about aeroplanes in ancient India. Many of the left-leaning journalists/writers also tried to insinuate that the current political dispensation at the center wants to popularise pseudoscience over real science.

Knowing that journalists are capable of mis-reporting stories, I decided to go to the Indian Science Congress website and learn about the talks myself; I downloaded the schedule.

And no surprise, it reinforced my understanding that most of Indian journalists are ill-informed!

Anyone who knows even a bit about today's science can see that the science congress had brought together an amazing group of scientists from all around the world. The invitees included five Nobel Laureates, Fields medalist, and Who’s Who of Indian Science. For example, Professors Randy Schekman (Berkeley University), Paul Nurse (Crick Institute, Oxford university and Cancer Research Institute UK) - both Nobel Laureates - and Professor Manjul Bhargava (Fields medalist) from Harvard University. Did we read anything about their contributions to science, or what they spoke about? Did we see TV interviews with them? If you do a search in google news, you will find that no Indian newspaper/TV has discussed anything about the research work of Professor Schekman; no Indian media has discussed anything about the work of Paul Nurse either. On the other hand, one will find articles from the Guardian and BBC about views of Professor Schekman or Paul Nurse on various issues.

A cursory look at the schedule will tell you that there were nearly 50 sessions with about five or six speakers per session - that means nearly 300 talks, and almost all of those talks were given by serious and well known scientists. Apart from famous scientists from abroad, the speakers included many top notch scientists from India. For example, Professor Vijaya Raghavan, a well-known scientist from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and the current secretary of Departments of Science and Technology (DST) and Biotechnology (DBT) was a speaker  in fact almost all secretaries/chair persons of all science related departments spoke, including ISRO chairman. We don't know what they talked about. Professor Vijayaraghavan, being the secretary of DST and DBT, will surely have something serious to say about science research in India; but who cares! This year's recipients of the Bhatnagar award (the highest prize for science in India) gave speeches there; we don’t know what they spoke about! Who cares! I know for a fact that some of them have made very interesting discoveries. But our media is not interested.

There were full dedicated sessions on subjects like future of climate change, disaster management, urban development, challenges for education in modern India, innovate and make in India, cancer biology, nutrition and health, science and technology in SAARC countries and so on and so forth. But we do not know what went on in any of these sessions. The whole media was interested in only one session: 'Ancient sciences through Sanskrit”; that too, just one talk in that session - a talk on 'Ancient Indian aviation technology'.

The Indian media focused only on this one talk as if nothing else went on in the science congress! The works of hundreds of serious scientists were neglected to hype up an irrelevant talk by an unknown person! Thank you media!  The scientists who took part in the science congress, including Professor Bhargava from Princeton, were quick point out the sad state of Indian media that focused on one 'minor' talk by neglecting hundreds of other serious and highly relevant works.

Now, look at the second part - the insinuation that this has something to with the current government at the center. This is absolute nonsense. Even Barkha Dutt, recently, tried to bring up the airplane in ancient India discussion when interviewing Professor Jagdish Bhagwati. Why? What is the connection? The organisers of the science congress seems to have put together a very good meeting inviting top notch scientists from everywhere in the globe, and Indian journalists like Barkha Dutt are busy ridiculing the congress. What must be the reason?

While the mainstream media is busy blaming Modi government for things they did not do, it is also interesting to note what the media is not reporting. The Modi government has come up with a great plan to invite 1000 US professors to teach in Indian Universities, every year. Couple of days ago, the HRD minister tweeted that Fields Medalist and Harvard professor Dr. Manjul Bhargava has agreed to be a part of this program and teach in India. If this proposal, known as GIAN - global initiative of academic network - works out, it will be a game-changer in higher education in India. If the best scientists in the word start visiting and teaching in India (even for short periods of months), it will increase the standard of education and research in India. But most of the mainstream media is silent about GIAN. I googled 'GIAN Manjul Bhargava - zero results!  This reinforces the known theory - journalism in India is agenda driven.

Courtesy Niti Central 


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