Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
Recently I have seen news paper reports criticizing scientists in India. These reports say while public money is being spent in large amounts for research, scientists here are not able to convert it into useful work ( what do they mean by useful work? Perhaps, they want to see the progress in the form of applications).
People often ask me why even after spending so much in the fields of science and technology, there is n't much in the form of results. What is wrong with the scientists here?
Before answering the question I want to tell a story recently happened. I met a director of a well known research institute in my city and asked him how his work was going on. To my surprise his answer was:
" I am about to retire in a year. I have reached the top most position of my institute. What interest still will I have now in research? I am just allowing my research students to continue."
His lack lusture reply has shocked me. How can this happen to a scientist? Whatever happened to his curiosity, enthusiasm to seek thrills in discovering and inventing new things, thirst for new knowledge which are all hall marks of people of science?
"The system has killed them", was the answer I got from him when I asked him the same questions.
'But I live in the same system but they didn't kill mine!' when I said this he smiled and said: 'You must have been made of a different stuff then!"
His reply sent my gray cells into an active mode.
India has the third largest scientific and technical manpower in the world ( I cannot confirm this although several reports say so). Therefore, it should be doing better than it is now doing. Science is the key of creation of knowledge. The creation of knowledge is the process of inventive activity. It is usually the result of explicit research and developmental effort normally carried out by scientists and engineers.
Not all areas of science are lacking in progress here. Space science has made tremendous progress. Space scientists are making us proud by giving tough competition to the best in the world. Then why are other areas of science are losing the race?
In basic products area India has been importing foreign technologies. Continuous import of foreign technology shows lack of ability to create new technology to suit our needs and this creates dependence on other countries. Excessive reliance on foreign technology is also visible in the important areas of defence, where the latest weapons are often imported from other countries. Apart from this weakness in creating new technology, India has also lagged behind in developing technology to meet the needs of the poor.
India is ‘lagging behind’ developed and newly industrialized economies in the field of science and technology due to ‘comparatively low’ investment in research and development and inadequate research and development of manpower. Sometimes inventions come from the experience of production, or through informal trial and error; or out of need or sometimes they come from serendipitous insight. Notably, the multiple origination of knowledge raises a measurement problem because not all R&D activity results in an invention, and not all inventions come from formal R&D activity. Nonetheless, various proxies are available to track knowledge, R&D effort, and their interconnections.
INSEAD's Global Innovation Index, which covers 125 countries, places India around the halfway mark, far behind nations such as Mauritius, Saudi Arabia and Guyana. Few Indians based in India show up in top science journals though a disproportionately large number from the diaspora do. If you take the citation index (a measure of how many times an article is cited in other research papers), the Indian scientists are not being cited many times in any international journal. But this again depends on people who want to quote only papers produced from their countries or people who they know as more popular. I have noticed that people often ignore scientists from developing countries while quoting.
India's scientific competitiveness, as measured by the number of publications in research journals listed by the Science Citation Index, is not proportional to its inherent strength in science. Indian science and technology is not only suffering from lack of funds but also from unethical practices, the urge to make illegal money, misuse of power, frivolous promotion policies (several scientists in other fields complain that less qualified and incompetent people get promotions just based on things like seniority and 'connections'), victimization for speaking against wrong or corrupt practices in the management.
According to Indian science and technology report, India is lagging in science and technology compared to other developed countries. India has only 140 researchers per million populations, compared to 4,651 in the United States. India invested US$ 3.7 billion in science and technology in 2002-2003. For comparison, China invested about four times more than India, while the United States invested approximately 75 times more than India in Science and Technology. India accounts for about 10% of all expenditure on research and development in Asia and the number of scientific publications grew by 45% over the past five years. Between 2004 and 2014, Indian gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) to GDP either stagnated at 0.9 percent or even relatively declined adjusted to inflation. China, another highly populated Asian nation that has achieved considerable economic growth recently, is racing ahead. In 2002-2003, its researchers published 50,000 papers in journals listed by the index, compared to 19,500 by Indian scientists.(ref1). However, even though China whips out more papers than India, India takes the cake when it comes to research quality (ref2).
Below is a nice graphic representation of R&D spend by country and number of researchers per capita (of course they are correlated).
An analysis of research publications around the world has shown that while India is among the world’s top countries in terms of scientific research output, the country’s universities have fallen way behind in providing good scientific research papers. Scientific papers published from India has grown at a rate of 14.3 per cent annually in the past five years, catapulting it into the elite list of countries like the US, the UK and Japan. But how much of this work is worth mentioning is a million dollar question.
India’s major contribution to the scientific world has been in the field of chemistry—38 per cent of the country’s papers in 2010 were on the subject. However, contribution of computer science (4.8 per cent), health sciences (3.5 per cent) and medical specialities (4.3 per cent) towards India’s total research output was relatively low.
Although the rising proportion of papers in chemistry is a good sign, we need to further strengthen our research capabilities in applied research in chemistry as most of the drug discovery today is a consequence of research in molecular chemistry and other applied disciplines in chemistry. Basic research is important but applied research is what leads to progress. And there’s inadequate research in agricultural and medical sciences in the country.
For researchers who aspire to succeed, the secret is to publish frequently, as first author, and in top journals. This often requires top quality equipment and the right atmosphere which is lacking in the Indian context because of meagure funds. Yes, if the press says there is huge amount of money spent on scientific research in India, when you distribute it among various research centers and universities, it dilutes to insignificance!. Like one friend of mine says, you get monkeys when you pay peanuts for research. In India, R&D investments as percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and R&D manpower per million populations is comparatively low.
Another problem is most of the publicised research in India is emanating from research institutes as opposed to universities, which typically account for a country’s growth in research. Only one university—University of Hyderabad—features in the list of top institutes that contributed towards India’s research output in 2008 and 2009. This is because the overall contribution of Indian universities towards the country’s total output is minimal because the universities have the additional burden of teaching, while research institutes have only one purpose—to conduct research. But we should not forget that all most all the top global universities get their ranks because of their research work in science ( ref 6)!
Much of the pure science research done in India is uncontrolled, irrelevant or concentrated in the hands of a few people atop the totem pole. There is a complaint that that many ideas in basic scientific research here in circulation are either borrowed or uncreative. There are also charges that many students from top scientific and engineering institutions also have been drifting to finance and management, leaving only mediocre students who could not bring quality into the institutions (ref 3).
Three of four Indian Nobel laureates in the pure sciences came from the diaspora. So why Indians were able to achieve world-class results only when they left their country of origin? Several people who work outside India are able to shine more only when they went abroad. I myself wanted to go out at one point of time because the infrastructure here is not adequate to do good research, the atmosphere is not right to encourage good science, critical thinking, creativity etc. which are extremely needed for success. Do we have a system failure here?
So what are the remedies?
Now that we know what ails scientific research in India, we can think about the remedies: let us consider the qualities of successful people first.
Why were some people better at succeeding in research? What explained variation in hours devoted to deliberate practice? The important factor is a psychological trait known as grit. Consistency of passions ( if you are obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest in it, you are not passionate enough) and consistency of effort ( when setbacks don’t discourage you). Not surprisingly, those with grit are more single-minded about their goals – they tend to get obsessed with certain activities – and also more likely to persist in the face of struggle and failure. Grit is what allows you show up again and again despite the obstacles and failures.
It is important to have talent. But it is more crucial that talent should be made untouchable by adversities. There’s a major contradiction between how we measure talent and the causes of talent. Conditions of high motivation should be present. Success in the real world depends on sustained performance, on being able to work hard at practice. Those are all versions of deliberate practice, and our ability to engage in such useful exercises largely depends on levels of grit - grit and self-control. While such traits have little or nothing to do with intelligence (as measured by IQ scores), they often explain a larger share of individual variation when it comes to success in life. Studies suggest that our most vital talent is having an ability for working hard, for practicing even when practice isn’t fun. It’s about putting in the hours when we’d rather be watching a match on TV, or partying with friends. Success is never easy. That’s why talent requires grit to triumph.
A child like enthusiasm, should never die. People who have retained this always succeed and reach great heights. I want to give the example of Sachin Tendulkar, a great batsman, here although he is not from the field of science. I am told he had the same child like enthusiasm on the day he retired - when his body no longer cooperated - he had when he entered the cricket arena as a teenager. People say this is what made him go on and on for years breaking several records and reaching great heights.
I am told even Einstein had this trait which made him so great despite his inadequacies during childhood.
Successful scientists say four things are responsible for progress in science:
1. Making money/ earning high salary and reaching the highest post in your institution are not success. Success is persisting with your effort despite several failures without losing enthusiasm. If you still love to do today what you have been doing for the past forty years, you are doing things right. They say in the ability to put in time the same way you did on the first day you entered your lab on your last day too there is the real secret of success. You should be prepared to outwork everyone. Competing with lazy people or escapists is a bad way of doing things. Competing with the best and those who don't quit no matter what the circumstances are is the secret of success.
2. One has to try to be productive, not just busy. Going for quality work, not just for any work that produce ordinary papers is another secret.
3. One's goal should be solving problems and helping people. Having good fundamental questions to guide research not the other way round is extremely important.
4. Developing broader vision, not tunnel vision, is another secret. Trying to connect your work with other things around is needed for more success . Having a good network of collaborators and collaborating with people from other areas of science and learning more things from them is very vital. High quality research and pursuing multiple lines of research will improve one's chances of success (but at the same time one has to learn how to focus on a single problem when the situation demands it). When trying to solve complex problems, progress often results from diverse perspectives. That is, the ability to see the problem differently, not simply “being smart,” often is the key to a breakthrough. As a result, when groups of intelligent individuals are working to solve hard problems,the diversity of the problem solvers matters more than their individual ability (ref 7, 8). Science is mostly a group subject.
I think blaming only the system for one's inadequacies should not become the way to escape responsibility. One must critically analyse one's performance too.
In this context I want to add a few more qualities researchers need to succeed.
One has to choose the subject one is interested in to do research, not any subject or the one one's guide or supervisor or team leader gives one. Curiosity must be the guiding force in science, not making money - leave that to economists. You are in this arena for different reasons. To gain knowledge, to help the world. An unrelenting political push towards economic returns and short-term targets for research is endangering scientists' academic freedom in many countries around the world, a leading French researchers' union has warned. That governments have pushed for a focus on applied research, have reduced academics' job security while increasing their administrative tasks, as well as paperwork required for grant applications. Such policies are “geared towards innovation in order to spur consumption and competitiveness” at the expense of academic freedom (ref 4). But basic research is as important as research in the applied fields as they lay foundations. One should not forget that almost all the Nobel prizes in science go to people who work in basic science.
India has yet to find the right direction to take. Scientific training here is poor. But the big question is can you really train a person to become a scientist if that person is not really into the subject? Having love and fascination for the scientific research field itself puts people on the right track to become good persons of science. This captivation occurs only when science communicators deliver goods in a thrilling way. Successful scientists are intrinsically motivated. That is that they have their own drive and curiosity to carry them forward. When you pour your heart and soul in to a project you are more likely to persevere, overcome difficulties and find creative solutions.
Science is not what you do in the lab, it's what you take to the lab and what you take out of the lab with your findings. Science is not only about collecting scientific knowledge, it's a special training of the mind where it has to sink into each and every atom of the body, to be able to influence you in everything you do. It is not like any other training where you can forget about what you are doing once you leave your office or work place. Science has to be with you 24X7X365X60.
There is a tendency here to rote learning of scientific material but not to ask critical questions, to think for themselves and to think theoretically, as science requires.
Poor leadership was another problem in Indian science, guides and supervisors lack quality assessment traits/calibers. Most of them are unable to guide people who work under them in the right way. There should also be opportunities for professors to go beyond the standard promotions and accolades. There needs to be national societies of those with top academic standards and incentives to professors and scientists when gone above their reachable qualities.
Crony capitalism and playing favourites like people in other fields do should be avoided. Merit and only merit should take center stage in science.
There is a need to change training methods, not just when students had turned into scientists but when they were still in school. Good schools will teach you how to question answers; they don't teach you to question questions in themselves. And that is where science begins. Science begins not by accepting answers and then questioning them; it is asking why are you asking the question in the first instance. Questioning the questions -- so that you go beyond the inherited framework. Training in critical thinking methods are very essential. Even if your supervisors or group leaders go wrong you should be able to question them and make them realize it (this's what I did too when I was doing my Ph.D.! But then my guide was very broad-minded and accepted the truth without any ego problems which made me more confident. I must say I am lucky in that way).
Another important aspect of science is creativity ( yes, it is not the sole property of art!).
Creatively connecting various things can never kill your talent because the more you do these things, the more you want to do them in science! It is a thrill. You go for it. You get hooked to it. Not for money, fame or name. In order to prepare our students to lead the world in innovation, we need to focus on the creative thought that gives individuals that innovative edge. I think this creativity is lacking in today's people entering the labs here. People here are not so good at growing their curiosity or imagination or connecting things right. Their focus is poor at sparking their creativity. Training here doesn’t teach us this or what it means to relate to others things on a deep level.
Although artists say they can teach scientists this, I think scientific creativity is different from artistic creativity. Scientists should develop scientific creativity more to stop their enthusiasm getting killed.
And how can we make our professors and scientists accountable? Yes, provide adequate funds but ask them to use them in the right way. Accountability is not a form of punishment, it is a watchdog. The word “accountable” means answerable for actions or decisions. To hold someone accountable means the person is being asked to explain why they did (or didn't do) something and in the right manner. Is asking our brains to show good results - not some or any results - wrong? Definitely not!
I started wondering more about what makes a person successful in science. I think if a person is in it for money or fame, once you achieve these goals, your enthusiasm will die. When it is not driven by curiosity - it is a doom situation for science. So one should go where one's curiosity takes -not where money takes one! Now a days people are more interested in 'jobs' that can earn them a livelihood. Yes, that is important. But more and more greed can make you a machine, not a human being.
You have to go for science if you are really passionate about the subject. If you have unquenchable thirst for knowledge, then only you can go on and on and on. You willingly take risks.
People who give awards for scientists here look for - quality and number of publications of the scientist, nature and uniqueness of the research conducted, outcomes of research, impact on society, vision of the researcher. Special consideration will also be given to novel and innovative ideas that hold potential for commercial application. These are the things that scientists should aim at although not for getting awards but to get high professional satisfaction.
Yes, rewards, praises, awards, support and back pats can push you forward up to a certain point but they don't take you far enough. Only when you experience thrill (yes, it is an emotion!) in what you are doing, you want to continue it forever.
The goals should be set so high that it takes everything you have to reach it. Merely wanting to become directors of your institute will stagnate your mind once you reach your destination!
Low self esteem should be discarded. A senior of mine when emigrated to the US after doing her Ph.D. here, realized how inadequate her work and training was when she joined a prestigious university in the US as a post -doctoral researcher. She told me the work she did here was nothing when compared to the one she was doing in the US and she was finding it difficult to adjust to the highly sophisticated equipment and hard work culture there! She thought she was not fit to do research there! Some of the researchers who originate here suffer from a lower self esteem when compared to the ones in the developed countries! This effects their morality. My friend could not succeed much even after several years of work in the US. I think one should be able to adapt when the situation demands it. The thought that 'we are not good enough' should be abandoned to progress in life. We need strong people who can withstand the demands of scientific research. Because “scientific talent” is cultivated through many years of training and effort. You cannot achieve it if your mind is weak.
Research funding is one big problem and it is harder to secure and its focus is more restricted now. Research is meant to generate something for mankind. Directed research is okay but because of political reasons there is less and less opportunity for research that is driven by curiosity. Can private sector help? But this sector is largely economics-driven. I want to mention here Tech Mahendra's Rise challenge. People at Mahendra say they can give anybody a million dollars if the person has a million dollar worth idea. I am following their initiative. Let us see where this leads to. Now people can't complain about funds. And more and more private sector people should come forward to take scientific research in India to greater levels.
Crowd-funding in scientific research is really an interesting aspect. Scientists are going for it when they have innovative ideas but don't have money to feed and fund them becoming realities. Here I am giving links to two sites that are lightning the scientific research:
Many of the Nobel laureates may be advanced in age, but if you watch them doing their work still, it is obvious that they also have an extraordinary ability to convey their passion for science with clarity, enthusiasm, and high levels of energy (you can read about one such scientist who is ninety but still working like mad to find solutions to several problems we face here . And read an inspirational story about a 102 year old scientist Dr. David Goodall- australias-oldest-working-scientist-wins-battle-keep-working - who keeps working passionately despite his age and health concerns!
Nobel Laureate Paul Greengard Kept Churning Out Ideas for New Drugs after Turning 90 (9). Do what you love: The nonagenarian showed no signs of slowing down from a nearly seven-day-a-week work schedule.
Their unignorable advice to science students: Go into science if you are curious and have passion for it. If not, find something else!
An American scientist who won Lasker ( called as America's Nobel) award this year says it is curiosity that drove her to map body's protein folding mechanism. If you read one of her interviews (ref 5), surprisingly, she said all the things I said are necessary for success in science! So successful scientists agree with my observations!
And when we find such people here who have these qualities to succeed, we should do everything to encourage them and make their work electrifying instead of making them impotent. So now that we know the problems and how to solve them, let us get into the correction mode immediately.
“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt
scientific research in India ( by a research scholar).
Let's proceed by giving a thorough attention to different viewpoints:
1. What do people outside the research fraternity think?
2. What does the research fraternity thinks?
3. What do I conclude?
People outside the research fraternity:
This community or flock believes in the motto "money buys comfort; hence happiness". Most of our parents or others falling into this category think that research in India is a long lost cause. Well they aren't completely wrong. Research as a profession is for those who want to transform tomorrow‘s technologies and want to create life-changing technologies. These people will tell you all kinds of statistics that can prove that you are going to fall into an abyss and inflict fear in you of you being never able to be successful and you would die with nothing but bitter ash in mouth, only they will tell you this subtly!!
If you talk to a professor or a principal scientist they would always encourage you to come to this side of the shore and since you already have the urge to do that you won't be doubting their intentions.
As soon as you do that and you are one of them they won't stop complaining or criticizing the system or the people of this scientific brotherhood regarding every possible thing. Few things to mention are FUNDS, BOSSES, COLLEAGUES.
FUNDS : They think they don't get enough. (My mentor just wasted a technology equipment worth 70,000 INR and doesn't feel a thing about it)
BOSSES : They can't choose. Moreover who likes his/her boss.
COLLEAGUES: "He was not deserving. He doesn't even have a patent. I have two."
Now since you have a pretty good idea of how people both in and out of this so called "RESEARCH FRATERNITY" think, I am going to state a few facts and then you can convince your parents or get convinced.
In INDIA (pros)
In INDIA (cons)
Still I think I have a moral obligation to give you the details of our Institutes and our scientific worth.
Following are the top R&D organizations of India :
While funding to research institutes has been cut down badly, scientists too have failed to pick up problems of relevance, said Bharat Ratna CNR Rao.
Rao was speaking at the 81st annual meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research on 6th Nov., 2015.
"Our funding has gone through a bad situation. Education, which is the most important element of social well-being, has never got importance in Indian system. We still spend 2% GDP on education. That 2% goes to all primary, middle school etc, then you can imagine how much is there for higher education. It is very little," said Rao, honorary president of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research. Rao is also the head of the scientific advisory council to the Prime Minister.
"They tell you that about 0.8 to 0.9% of GDP is being spent on science. But, what they don't tell you is where this money is going. Most of it is going in atomic energy, space, Defence Research and Development Organisation. What are you getting? Fundamental research, basic research which is the foundation of all that we do today. That gets almost nothing," he said.
Rao added that last year, budgets of many institutions were cut. "The cut still continues. The total money required to make up for the deficiencies in the budgets of all institutions put together, I calculated, comes to around Rs 1,500 crore. It is trivial money for India, but nobody cares. I hope the government will change and make up for the deficiency," he said.
"Big science gets too much importance in India, compared to small science. Manmohan Singh was convinced about that. Small science is the one that helps society," Rao said. He further said small-time researchers should be given start-up money of Rs 5 to 10 lakh for their research without much paperwork.
Talking about failure on the part of scientist fraternity
,Rao said the government is not the only one responsible for the state of affairs. "We are all equally responsible. In the academic space, how would your science be, depends on the problem you pick. It is picking the problem that is more difficult than doing it. In international circles, they keep asking me why brilliant scientists in India work on problems that are not interesting and I have no answer. So, I think we have to do something about doing the right science and picking right problem," he added.
On age not being a barrier for good work, Rao said the country should stop throwing out old people who have done excellent work as their knowledge is important for the nation. "There is a need to completely revamp old and outdated syllabus in universities across the country," he said.
Rao refused to comment on the issue of scientists returning their awards as protest against intolerance. In the speech, he mentioned that "we as a society should stop talking about trivial subjects".
Nanotechnology is the only scientific area where India has a respectable ranking, eminent scientist C.N.R. Rao said on Monday.
"India continues to maintain a reasonable record. It is the only area in science where India has a ranking, still number three in the world in the number of publications," said the scientist
India’s science marching to nowhere
India’s scientific labs are now required to raise money for their projects
After project funds are stopped, scientists rally for nationwide ‘March for Science’
The marchers demand increase in government spending on science