Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

                                                                         Interactive science series -

Q: After reading your article on Nocebo effects, I want to ask a question. Are the Nocebo and  placebo phenomena testable or quantifiable? 

MR: Yes, only when scientists tested them, they realized these will have effect on patients in real situations. 

You give people a sugar pill, and compare the rate of recovery to people who you gave nothing. Or you divide patients into groups and give an ordinary pill that doesn't contain a potent drug to one group and a pill with drug to another one and compare results of these experiments.

It is the mind playing games with you! 

Q: I read your article your-biological-age-can-be-different-from-your-actual-age and found it interesting.  Can you tell me why do we get certain diseases associated with brain  when we age?

MR: As brain cells get older, some proteins within and around the cell misfold. They twist into the wrong shape, unable to do their routine job. Then they glom together to form menacing clumps. If left to accumulate, this “junk” can overwhelm nerve cells’ quality control systems, triggering incurable brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

Q: Your article "The most menacing animal" is interesting. But I have a question. Is it true that mosquitoes cannot bite our palms and feet?

MR: No, it is not true! I am a living proof that they can and do! My skin is very thin. The mosquitoes can bite me even on my palms and feet if I don’t protect myself from them!

The reason most of us might not notice the usual expectations of such bites are mostly due to the physiological features of our hands.

The hands are human tools and the skin on the palms of our hands is markedly different from that of most other parts of the body. The skin on the palms and balls of the fingers and thumbs:

  • has a thick and robust horny layer
  • is rich in fatty and connective tissue
  • is well padded with tissue insensitive to pressure
  • is hair-free and has no sebaceous glands
  • has a high density of sweat glands
  • All of these factors as well as how many times you were bitten and allergic reactions play in the role of why it may appear that fireants and mosquitos are not biting the palms of our hands.

Q: What are the qualities common to all great researchers/scientists?

MR: I wrote on it long back. You can read my article based on this very topic here:  The specific traits of a scientific mind

Q: After reading your above mentioned article, 'The specific traits of a scientific mind', I want to ask you... were you born with all those qualities? If I don't have them, can I develop them?   

MR: These qualities are innate as far as I am concerned. They came naturally to me. I never tried to develop them. But if you want you can develop them with hard work.  Your success in the field  very much depend on them. 

Q: Why aren't there more famous scientists ? 

MR: 'Becoming famous' depends on several factors.

Fame comes as a result of wide scale acceptance which results in popularity as well as correctness and applicability of the theory a scientist proposes.

But it doesn't work like that always.

Sometimes media thrusts 'greatness'on some people. Some 'become great' as they are often 'visible' in public places and the world is aware of their work. Some names are often seen because people repeat only their names as they don't know anybody else!  Stephen Hawking and Penrose are well known because they have written books for a laymen audience. 'Greatness' and 'fame' are sometimes misplaced  by public with herd mentality. 

But there are many who do groundbreaking research at that level but are not so popular. For instance, take Nobel laureate in Physics Steven Weinberg whom very few have heard of. The lack of fame doesn’t diminish his worth as a scientist.

Fame is more about marketing, applicability, acceptance than about brilliance, correctness and effort.

'Famous scientists' is an Oxymoronic term: why? Because most scientists are people who usually shy away from publicity and fame. They want to be left alone and do their work in solitude and peace. Their skills are very high in their field but not in becoming famous in today's internet/media-made-fame world ! 

See the picture below and you will understand it... 


Q: What makes a scientist great in your opinion?

MR: I think the word 'great' is a relative term in science when contributions are taken into account. All the work is important and added to some knowledge. You really cannot say some are great and some are not. But there are some parameters that place some scientists above others. 

 A great scientist is great when  s/he  doesn't compromise the scientific method to acquire knowledge.

When s/he gives her everything for the welfare of the world without expecting much in return.

Some are also great even though they didn't offer a great contribution to acquiring knowledge in science but helped spread the word or clear misconceptions or provide the public with a view of what science is all about and what it is trying to accomplish and helping the world in the process.

Read my article based on this topic here: why-i-place-these-scientists-a-little-bit-above-others

Q: What is the most frustrating thing about being a scientist?

MR: Several people from the field of science gave me several of their views on this. I did not face most of the academic frustrations other scientists mentioned to me. Maybe my outlook is a bit different from others.
I think facing religious bigots with scientific facts is my biggest disappointment. Because they have a completely closed mind. And you need a herculean effort to open them up! But I am trying my best.

Q: Why are scientists often treated as arrogant ?

MR: Well, yes, I have heard some people saying scientists are arrogant. The problem is  several of the characteristics of arrogant people are similar to the characteristics of smart people.

Arrogant people believe that they know more than they do, and they will talk as if they are experts. Scientists will also talk like experts, often because they are experts! If you're not an expert yourself it may be tricky to tell them apart.

Arrogant people won't listen to others and don't like to take input or criticism. Scientists will also ignore 'nonsense' from other people, because they do understand what they're doing is right and better than the people who are giving them an 'advise'. 

Arrogant people may put others down by correcting them or try to make themselves feel good by making other people feel inferior. Scientists can make other people feel inferior simply by being smarter.

That is the reality! Many smart people cross the fine line between the two, either because the don't realise how they come over there or because they don't care. And in some sense they have a point - if you're right and you know you're right it can be tiresome to deal with someone who clearly doesn't understand something as well as you do, especially if they don't realise it. This is very unfortunate. It's a tough situation to be in.

(One of my scientist friends who read this sent me this explanation:

A human brain can only do so much. Those who are generally acknowledged as having a high IQ use most of their brain for logic. This has short-changed the emotional intelligence (EQ) aspects of personality on brain power. Hence, these people don't have their brain's wired for the EQ necessary to not appear arrogant. It isn't something they're doing on purpose, or even something they have much control over.

It is as hard for IQ folks to think about EQ problems as it is for EQ folks to think about IQ problems! But, EQ people generally don't have the IQ to understand that!

Arrogance is especially felt by people who aren't IQ smart since a) they're having difficulty understanding the concept being discussed and b) their EQ focused brains tend to take everything personally and can't detach their feelings from a logical debate.)

Q: You work in several fields. Which one is your favourite?

MR: Instant answer: Science, absolutely! No other subject gives me so much thrill, knowledge, guidance and satisfaction like science does.

Q: Why do people consider science and religion opposite to each other?

MR: Science and religion  are different subjects covering different things.  Science covers what can be detected and measured; if you cannot detect or measure it it is not science.  Religion covers what cannot be detected or measure; that which requires faith and hope. 

Q: Do scientists raise their children in a different way? What is it like to be raised by a scientist?
MR: My parents were not scientists, nor do I have children, so I cannot answer your Q properly because I have no first hand experience.
But my niece and nephew will sometimes hide their faces when they are doing things that I tell them not to do. I give them a very strict regime to follow and they find it difficult to pursue it even if it is for their own good.
Here is an interesting story of a Microbiologist that Took Handprint of Her Son After Playing Outside and Incubated the Results!

Microbiologist Takes Handprint of Her Son After Playing Outside and...

That is what will happen if your mom is a Microbiologist!

Q: What is the science behind Indian superstitions?

MR: 'Science behind superstition' is oxymoronic!

Science is evidence based knowledge and meaning of superstition is myth, baseless belief, and old wives tale.

And what I felt about what I read in the media about the topic is 'nice creativity'! But no clear scientific evidence! And lots of pseudo-science and grandma’s tales.

Examples: Dwaja sthambham (long pillar in front of temples): science behind it: They work as Lightening arrestors

But I have seen the temple “gopurams” or domes longer than Dwajasthambams. And it is a fact that the taller one attracts lightening than the shorter ones!

Superstion and 'scientific' explanation about menstruation: Women weren't supposed to work during their menses.

During menstruation, women weren't supposed to do their daily chores. This provided them a great amount of rest. They were housed in a separate area, providing great hygiene, to the people of the house (since sanitary pads and other stuff were not available then).

My article mentioning facts about it:  Right facts about menstruation

About not taking a bath immediately after eating eating… there is no evidence too…

People say it's that all your blood is "busy" with the digestion, which could cause cramping in your extremities, causing you to potentially drown if you are, for example, too deep into the sea at the beach. There is no scientific evidence for this!

There is enough blood in our bodies both for digestion as well as temp. control. So don’t worry.

Simply making claims is not enough. Provide peer-reviewed paper evidence to claim it is science.

Should you wait an hour after eating until swimming?

We have tested some of these claims and I wrote on this. You can read my articles here:

Love Science, not its impostors!

Be alert - Pseudo-Science and Anti-Science are on the Prowl!

Q: Do scientist believe in astrology/ ghosts/ luck despite the fact that people who promote these things deal with  obscurantism?

MR: Majority of them don’t.

If anyone from the scientific community still believes in irrational things, that means the person is unable to overcome his or her cultural/ religious/emotional conditioning of his/her mind with scientific reasoning and can cause harm to the field.

Q: What if he/she is convinced that Astrology is not logical, not science but a matter of faith and belief; he keeps them separate from his scientific thoughts. What then?

Note : I am not in favor of astrology, However I feel that a person can keep faith and profession insulated. I am not challenging what you said. Just seeking clarification on your views.

MR: True scientists cannot tolerate cognitive dissonance ( science doesn't allow for the holding of two contradictory positions). They must choose the facts and stick to them.

You shouldn't reason backward from belief to evidence because that will subject you to numerous cognitive biases and you risk fooling yourself about the nature of reality. And if a scientist is after facts, irrational thoughts would definitely interfere with his cognitive abilities as a scientist.

Read my article on this here: Science and Spirituality

It is extremely difficult, especially when one is facing difficult times, low in confidence and in a high confusion state to keep things separate. They will definitely interfere with one another. Why? Read here: Science's rules are unyielding, they will not be bent in any way fo...

Q: Generally humans believe in it a scientist or a doctor ..just because we achieve a Ph.D does not give anybody a right to disbelieve a proven science. Personally I have seen many scientists and doctors...professors  wearing gemstones, believing in astrology, consulting pundits in the field,. ..well does that  make them into a lesser individuals?

MR: Astrology is pseudo-science, not a proven science.

Yes, some scientists do believe in irrational things because they are not trained properly to think  critically  and are unable to overcome fear, confusion and chaos in their personal lives. That is why we are in such a situation here. And they give you ammunition to fight with us who are trained in the right way.

If some scientists ( doctors are not scientists ) are doing what you say, it means they are unable to think critically which is essential for scientific research and that makes them risky for the job. As a person belonging to the field of science, I know what is essential and what is not here. If a person cannot differentiate between science and pseudo-science, facts and irrational beliefs, how can he do justice to his job and trained field?

Q: Do scientists too question and attack science?

MR: Question, Yes. But not Science per se. If a scientist was to question 'science' he would be questioning the method with which the information was acquired. They would also question from only within scientific framework following only scientific principles.

Scientists are critical thinkers and professional skeptics (which is why peer review exists) and will therefore also question science's methodology. The way funding, publishing and hiring/careers are organized is sometimes questionable. Some research is hard to reproduce. Other research is hard to verify, like string theory. Verification and reproduction are important pillars of the scientific method and the lack of those are... questionable. As far as questioning the validity of our knowledge goes, the answer is yes. Scientists are highly motivated to question knowledge that we take for granted and doesn't stand the test of scrutiny.

Attack Science? Hardly. They might attack people who are not following scientific methods properly. They might also attack people who don't do critical thinking and follow irrational things. 

Q: How do scientists find composition of planets and other details about them when they are so far away from Earth?

MR: Well, that is the beauty and wonder of science! Watch this video to know all about it:

Q: How do scientists control space crafts that are millions of miles away?

MR: The space crafts have on-board computers, batteries, etc., and are essentially autonomous robots. Some of them are able to go to sleep for long periods while cruising through space like ISRO's MOM. The biggest achievement of  the odyssey is India's demonstration of mastery over making the spacecraft 'think and act' on its own! The 'electronic brain' that helped the MOM to journey for more than 689 km - correcting altitudes and positioning its antenna constantly toward  the  Earth for  communication and its solar panels toward the Sun to generate power - is very vital for the success of the spaceship. It is this brain that stored  commands from ISRO in Bangalore  10 days in advance and carried them out to fire its engine to enter Martian orbit.  All through its journey MOM has controlled its temperature and cruised in the direction of Mars with very little prodding from Earth. Some 150 automated thermo-controllers kept the temperature  steady. While speeding at more than 82,000 kmph. it never lost direction, thanks to the star-gazing equipment on board which looked at constellations of 6-10 stars every microsecond and compare them with preloaded patterns. MOM continuously matched the patterns and in relation to the constallations, determined its position and direction.  Scientists call it autonomy.  Autonomy can deliver things stranger than we think. 

When scientists want to give directives to space crafts sometimes, they are commanded through sequences of instructions prepared on Earth and uploaded using the deep space network, which uses radio waves.

The key to sending and receiving the signals is not the power of the radio, but a combination of three things: very large antennas, directional antennas that point right at each other, radio frequencies without a lot of man-made interference on them. 

The antenna on Earth can use an extremely sensitive amplifier and still make sense of the faint signals it receives. Then when the earth antenna transmits back to the spacecraft, it uses extremely high power (tens of thousands of watts) to make sure the spacecraft gets the message.

Some space crafts are built in such a way that they are entirely reprogrammable, which come in handy as their missions evolve and their instruments are shut down for some time during their long  journeys.

Q: Is there any scientific explanation to the urine therapy?

Q: Is your own urine therapy good for your health?

Q: Is it scientifically correct to use Goumutra (Cow Urine) as 'medicine' or is it a superstition?

Q: Is there any scientific evidence for gou mutra chikitsa ( cow urine therapy)?

Krishna:There are no medical or scientific data to support this dubious practice, but it has roots in history and in some religious and spiritual traditions.

Some people use it thinking that it can ‘cure’ certain diseases like cancer! If we could eradicate cancer with “Urine therapy” that would be a miracle! And miracles don’t occur 99.99% of the time!

While it is true that urine can contain tumor antigens, there is no evidence to show that drinking, massaging with, bathing in, or any other application of urine will stimulate antibody production or in any way fight off a cancer. The quantities of substances, including tumor antigens, present in urine are typically minuscule compared with those already present in the blood and elsewhere in the body. The bottom line is that drinking urine has no known medical benefit.

Contrary to the claims of alternative therapies that say urine has curative powers, urologists and nephrologists say that the increasing concentration of toxins will quickly do more harm than good. The American Cancer Society states that "[n]o well-controlled studies published in available scientific lite...."

However, some research has been done in this regard...

Patent US6410059 - Pharmaceutical composition containing cow urine ...

Patent US6896907 - Use of bioactive fraction from cow urine distill...

And this is my explanation...

The patent says…the applicants thought of utilizing cow urine, which is not MICROBICIDAL but when present with a drug or active molecule, enhance its activity and availability (bioenhancers). The present invention was the result of planned experiments to provide a novel method for improving activity and bioavailability of antibiotics, drugs and other molecules using ‘cow urine distillate’ in different formulations.

It is similar to saying methi seeds ‘enhance’ the diabetic drug performance but they don’t actually act as drugs themselves.



Gomutra might contain bioenhancers but they also contain several toxins too that the cow’s body is trying to excrete. A distillate is a liquid which is condensed from a vapor during distillation and removes microbes and other substances that are harmful.

The best possible way to use bio-enhancers is to extract them, purify and use them.

Raw ‘gomutra’ as it is excreted by a cow is harmful. }

Raw ‘gaumutra’ as it is excreted by a cow is harmful. }.

Cow's urine poisoning in Nigeria. Experimental observations in mice.

Gaumutra has no benefits in cancer therapy. It is harmful in its raw form.

Please don’t take it while undergoing chemotherapy as your immune system will be already under severe stress and taking raw gaumutra can cause more severe infections.

There are over 200 types of cancer. Which cancer exactly does cow urine cure?  So far, there is no definite "cure for cancer" because cancer isn't one disease to begin with. 
 There's a "patent" for cow urine's efficacy in treating cancer floating around on the web. But a patent does not mean pharmaceutical efficacy. The patent was was based on testing on mice, not humans. Unless there is pharmaceutical testing with human trials approved by a competent regulator such as the US FDA or the Indian Drug Controller General would be valid. 

What is disturbing is a study that reveals how cow urine, being administered to mice can cause "significant side effects, including convulsion, depressed respiration, and death." Cow's urine can also be a source of harmful bacteria and infectious diseases.

Q: But some people do drink urine to stay hydrated and be alive in extreme conditions. 

How long can you survive by drinking pee?

MR: An extra day or two, at best. A healthy person's urine is about 95 percent water, so in the short term it's safe to drink and does replenish lost water. But the other 5 percent of urine comprises a diverse collection of waste products, including nitrogen, potassium, and calcium—and too much of these can cause problems. When you drink your own urine, all the stuff that your kidneys had attempted to excrete comes right back into your stomach, and much of it ends up back in your kidneys. After several days of this, your urine will become highly concentrated with dangerous waste products, and drinking it can cause symptoms similar to those brought on by total kidney failure. At that point, you're doomed either way—from dehydration on the one hand or renal meltdown on the other. (Even if one could filter out most of the unwanted products in urine, the cycle would not be sustainable for long. In addition to what he or she pees out, the average human excretes about half a quart of water a day through sweating and exhaling.)

Drinking urine can be especially dangerous for survivors of crushing injuries. When muscle fibers are damaged, the cells can begin leaking potassium and phosphorous into the bloodstream. Even a victim with healthy kidneys might not be able to clear the dangerous build-up; someone who had been drinking his own urine would be at much greater risk. (For the same reason, a person drinking his own urine should stay away from high-potassium foods like bananas.) 

Therefore,  the practice is not widely advised as a survival technique or for curing ailments or for health benefits.

Q: How can one be completely sure that one likes doing scientific research?
MR: If what you are doing in your lab gives you a high, makes you highly satisfactory, lays a clear path before you, you can be sure that you really like it. But it takes some time to get to this stage, say atleast two years after starting your work.
Q: What should a scientific research begin with? Why?
MR: Getting acquainted with the topic! Read here why: How to do research and write research papers

Q: India: I want to become a scientist in India. What are the related exams and names of colleges that would help me accomplish this?

MR: You have to do your PG and Ph.D. in science first from any good university/research institute. Then you will become a trained scientist. Only after this training, you can apply for a scientist post. Read the full details here: How to do research and write research papers

Q: Is Mars in the Goldilocks zone?

MR: The habitable zone is the range of distances from a star where a planet’s temperature allows liquid water oceans, critical for life on a planet. The earliest definition of the zone was based on simple thermal equilibrium, but current calculations of the habitable zone include many other factors, including the greenhouse effect of a planet’s atmosphere. Its magnetic field (1). Its plate tectonics (2). Its life itself (3)! This makes the boundaries of a habitable zone "fuzzy." Therefore, scientists are now realizing that 'The Goldilocks Zone' that has long been defined as the band of space around a star that is not too warm, not too cold, rocky and with the right conditions for maintaining surface water and a breathable atmosphere , which to date scientists have only been able to calibrate using observations from our own solar system, may be too limiting. And they think the planet-formation can take different routes and can be dissimilar to the one of our solar system. So 'Habitable Planets' may lie outside the "Goldilocks zone" in extra-solar systems, and that planets farther from or closer to their suns than Earth may harbor the conditions necessary for life.

So it is a bit complicated. And earlier definitions don’t count now. When all these factors are taken into account we will realize how difficult it is to put Mars in the habitable zone or non- habitable zone without knowing more details about it.





Q: Who is the highest authority in science? Who decides what is right or wrong in the field?

MR: There is no "official highest authority" in science.

There is no group of people sitting around dictating the laws and theories of science. This may sound elementary to some, but to others, this is critical to understand. Anybody can go out and try to disprove scientific theories. In fact, that is what scientists do every single day. They try their best to disprove their theories to see if there exists a better one.

The scientific method is an ongoing process and an ever evolving one.  You just cannot fix it forever.

But scientific community itself, as a whole, can decide what is right and what is wrong in the field. 

Q: What are the most important things I should know before venturing into the realm of science? 

MR: The most important thing one should know about things scientific is:

Internet provides half truths. I have seen people 'learning' things from internet ( I gave them a new name: "Internet Scientists"! ), thinking that what they have learned is correct so now they are as good as any scientist or even better than scientists as they have 'researched thoroughly' about the subject on the net and questioning the integrity of science and arguing things with real scientists. What they don't realize is what they have learned was second hand knowledge, which could sometimes be error-prone but refuse to accept it, refuse to provide proof, add their prejudicial opinions to their 'research' and create a Chimera. And blame scientists and science for all this confusion! This is a dangerous situation! Because what these people 'know' can only be half truths. And what they understand is based on their preconceptions of the matter!

Searching the Internet for information may make people feel smarter than they actually are, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association (ref ). It seems internet searches create false sense of personal knowledge. With the Internet, the lines become blurry between what you actually know and what you think you know. According to lab scientists, an inflated sense of personal knowledge also could be dangerous in the political realm or other areas involving high-stakes decisions.

What is more dangerous is these internet scientists try to ‘advice’, ‘inform’ and sometimes even try to ‘correct’ not only laymen but also the real scientists.

More details here: Lab scientists versus internet scientists

and here: How to trust science stories: A guide for common man


Q: I hate brushing my teeth before going to bed. But my mother insists that I do. Animals don't brush their teeth. For thousands of years even human beings didn't brush their teeth. Why should we do it twice now?

MR: We have to brush our teeth now because we started eating more refined sugars, carbohydrates and processed foods and live  longer than our ancestors did for tooth problems to develop! A major reason for the occurrence of dental infections these days is a mineral and vitamin deficient diet. This results in weak teeth that are ill-equipped when it comes to resisting tooth decay. This was not a problem in the previous days, as the diet used to be pure, wholesome and balanced.

Thousands of  years ago people didn't brush their teeth because the food that they ate had enough roughage. It 'acted' like a brush. Animals also don't ingest refined sugars and sodas. Animals eat hard rough food that cleans the teeth but even dogs if they eat only soft food or non-vegetarian food will have a build up of tartar on their teeth and could get periodontal disease and lose their teeth.

 Moreover the microbes have evolved now to cause more problems. Human cavities started to take off about 10,000 years ago - roughly about the same times as humans were moving to  agriculture. 

Read these research papers to understand it more: 

Evolutionary and population genomics of the cavity causing bacteria Streptococcus mutans

Sequencing ancient calcified dental plaque shows changes in oral microbiota with dietary shifts of the Neolithic and Industrial revolutions

The development of the first toothbrush probably dates back to around 3000BC, when the Babylonians and Egyptians fabricated the first toothbrush by using frayed twigs. According to another source, around 1600 BC, the Chinese prepared “chew sticks” that were made from the twigs of aromatic trees for freshening their breaths.

So, just do what your mom tells you to do. She knows better than you do and therefore is worried about your welfare. Apart from brushing your teeth twice in a day, don't forget to floss your teeth to keep them clean.

Q: Can you name one or two Indian scientists who really deserve civilian awards but didn't get them?

MR: One name that is being discussed among scientists here is Prof. T Pradeep from the department of chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He currently heads the DST unit of nanoscience at the Institute - a unit that takes part in some of the country’s best research.

Now take a look at some of the things he’s done.

Prof. Pradeep’s research group discovered that noble metal nanoparticles (Gold, Silver, and Platinum) can completely degrade halo-carbons (molecules in which one or more carbon atoms are linked to halogen atoms) into amorphous carbon and metal halides. This discovery has lead to the world’s first nanochemistry based filter for pesticide removal. Imagine using harmless metal nanoparticles to remove heavy metals and pesticides from water and in turn, being able to provide clean drinking water to remote and rural parts of the country.

Currently, this technology is estimated to have reached about 7.5 million people. His group developed several other technologies to remove contaminants from drinking water. Combining several such materials, an all-inclusive affordable drinking water purifier has been developed. Exciting aspect of this technology is the creation of advanced materials by simple and environment-friendly methods.

This is just the tip of the iceberg! His group in involved in some of the most intense, cutting edge, and scientifically redefining research that is possible.

He has won a lot of awards, including the prestigious Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Award in Chemical Sciences. However, he hasn’t won any civilian awards yet, despite his company spreading into rural areas and making people’s lives better. 

There are several scientists like him who really help mankind in every possible way. But they don't get any civilian awards, not even the lowest ones. But if you ask any one of them, (and I have) whether they feel they’ve missed out on something like a Padma award for their contributions towards the development of the country, and they’ll say: “NO! We don’t really care about awards!

Well! They won't try or lobby for them like others do to get nominated although they really deserve them! But can't anybody else think of them either for nominations or for giving them the highest civilian awards in the country for the 'great' work done by them? Think about it!

 Of course you will also find exceptions like Dr. Kalam, who, scientists here think, got it because he is popular for various other factors too.

Q: What is a good retort for a statement like "scientists can't explain this or that"? For example, religionists love to bolster their faith in the incredible by saying things like "the terminally ill cancer patient was cured and scientists can't explain why", with the implication that it must be a miracle, performed by a supernatural being (usually, the deity they believe in).
MR: Well I faced this situation several times where some people ridicule science during my interactions with people outside of science. I wrote an article on this. You can read my reply to them here:

Sometime back an artist challenged me to make him see and understand the beauty of a rose through science's lenses. And this is my reply to him: 

The beauty of a rose as perceived by our senses through science's l...

Q: What's the most distinctive trait that distinguishes an artist from a scientist?

MR: I am both a person of science and art.

Based on my experiences I wrote about the major fundamental differences (about 25) between scientists and artists and science and art. You can read my article here: Groups and here: Blogs

I will just mention about one important difference now…

I think artistic creativity is fundamentally different from scientific creativity. Artist's depend mostly on "their thoughts, ideas, beliefs and personal views" for their work whereas scientists' base their work on natural laws and facts and how to fit their informed ideas into these laws to creatively invent or discover something. The imagination of a scientist is based on reality. A scientist has to get his imagination right to succeed where as the artist need not do it right to move forward. In fact, the inadequacies of artists' imagination are what moves the art world forward! They are not the same like several people think and say. At the basic level some overlapping occurs but as you go deep into the subjects, the differences become very clear and I always wonder why people say both artists and scientists do things in similar ways. I think, people who are experts in only one field try to analyse things in other fields too such illusionary perceptions arise. I will give an example here. When artists, writers and poets look at the moon they see it as a silver ball in the sky and describe it or paint it in this manner. I even read some stories where the crescent moon was described as a jewel in the hair of a God! This thinking reflects in their creativity ( metaphor and fiction). Now scientists think in terms of a rocky, dusty satellite that moves in space around the earth trapped in its gravity field when they think about the moon and they use their creativity to take the help of the gravity of the moon to accelerate space ships or change their course to send them to other planets to save fuel and time - the mechanism is called "gravity assist " ( fact). Artists and poets even blamed scientists for disrupting their romantic ideas about moon by landing on it! Of course in some areas of science where there is inadequacy in terms of understanding and equipment to study things - like for example Astro-Physics and Theoretical Physics - some scientists might use metaphor and wild imaginations like artists do. But this is not the norm. If you take such examples and say all scientists do things similar to artists that becomes 'fallacy of composition'.

When artists stop after wondering about something based on their beliefs and imagining things, scientists actually go ahead and investigate and verify whether what they have imagined based on the information available at the time is correct or not.

A scientist says: The artist is seeking truth in the metaphysical world, and when the artist finds something there, expresses it in an enlightening and compelling way.

A scientist is seeking truth in the physical world, and when the scientist finds such truth, expresses it in an enlightening and compelling way.

Q: Why scientists haven't been able to develop an AIDS vaccine till now?

MR: It is difficult to find an effective vaccine for AIDS because of the complicated nature of the virus. HIV has a high rate of mutation, i.e., it changes its DNA more frequently. So, since the origin and spread of the virus, it has mutated so many times in different individuals that we now have thousands of strains of HIV.

However, scientists are targeting several other molecular mechanisms of the virus to not only find a vaccine but also a cure for the disease by hoodwinking the virus.

Vaccine development is not an easy process. Detailed studies have to take place before identifying one and clinical trials have to take place to identify the effectiveness of the vaccine and its side effects. Only when the positives outweigh the negatives, the vaccines are brought before the world. It takes several years for a single vaccine to come into the public domain.

But still why do scientists believe a preventive AIDS vaccine is possible?

1. Data from a recent Phase III AIDS vaccine trial in Thailand showed for the first time that an AIDS vaccine can reduce the risk of HIV infection in humans. Previously, the field had evidence of feasibility for an AIDS vaccine in animal models—but now we know that an AIDS vaccine candidate can also provide benefit in humans. The trial, conducted by the U.S. Military HIV Research Program and the Thai Ministry of Public Health, indicated that a prime-boost combination of two AIDS vaccine candidates reduced the risk of HIV infection by about 30%, but did not have any effect on the amount of virus in individuals who became HIV infected after vaccination. These results will help guide ongoing and future AIDS vaccine design and development efforts.

2. On average ten years elapse from the time a person is infected with HIV to the time when the virus has done enough damage to warrant an AIDS diagnosis. This means that the immune system has some ability to control HIV, albeit temporarily. During this time a viral load which, in acute infection, peaks at several million copies/ml is typically contained to some tens of thousands of copies. The role of a vaccine could be to improve these defences to a point at which they would contain HIV replication more completely, and permanently.

3. In addition, researchers know that the immune systems of some individuals have a natural ability to prevent infection with HIV. In other individuals, the immune system appears to control the progression of the disease. Some female sex workers and male partners of HIV-positive men have remained HIV uninfected, or infected but able to control infection so that it is harmless, for many years, despite repeated sex without condoms. What’s more, some HIV infected individuals produce antibodies that are capable of neutralizing the majority of strains of HIV circulating in the world today; these antibodies, injected into non-human primates, work like an effective vaccine.

Scientists are taking cues from these people’s immune systems and are trying to make vaccines. It is just a matter of time before we succeed.

Q: Can I go for painful vaccines as a 2nd booster dose if previous doses were taken? painless?

MR: Yes, you can, if you have to. But consider these things before going for it:

Your nomenclature of painful vaccine and painless vaccine is not proper. What you call ‘painful vaccine’ is the normal vaccine used by more than 90% of the world children. The other won called ‘painless vaccine’ should be better named as ‘less pain vaccine’.

Painless vaccine is the popular name of acellular Pertussis (whooping-cough) vaccine . It is generally given as a combination vaccine,DaPT (Diphtheria,acellular-Pertussis , Tetanus).

Painful vaccine is also Pertussis vaccine like the painless vaccine , but it is whole cell vaccine.This too is given as a DwPT combination. So,both these vaccines are Pertussis vaccines, with a few important differentiating factors.

Painful, vaccine (whole-cell) for DPT: Better priming,which means initial sensitization to the antigen (bacteria) is better . Thus antibodyproduction is more and protection is superior.

Painless vaccine has a faster period of waning that is the immunity provided by the painless vaccine decreases faster than the painful vaccine. These two reasons are responsible for recent recurrence of whooping cough in many of the countries using only Painless vaccine.

Painful vaccine is to be preferred in all cases as it gives better protection for a longer duration. It is unequivocally proved that older vaccine that causes some pain is better in all respects, much economical and easily available. This should be the vaccine of choice unless specifically contra-indicated*

You have to *go for painless one when

  • History of severe adverse effect to previous dose of painful vaccine.
  • Child having any neurological problem.
  • Going for booster doses at one and a half years and five years.

Q: What are some of the facts behind PhD advisors for completing PhD in India?
It is said that for PhD in India, one has to keep his/her PhD advisers happy and impressed. What are the things that impress advisers apart from work?There are cases where PhD students do exceptional work still their advisers are not happy, They even give an ‘X’ grade or sometimes dismiss their PhD.
MR: We never faced such things in our university. Our relationships with our supervisors are thoroughly professional. I don’t know about the situations in other universities. But none of my friends in other universities too never complained about their guides.
I don’t know from where you got this impression. You should ask people who told you this to provide evidence to substantiate their stories.
Q: Is there any scientific evidence for psychic abilities?
MR: I have yet to see full proof evidence! Most of the studies presented to scientists by supporters of psychic phenomena are deeply flawed in execution or analysis or do not contain enough detail to be judged on a scientific basis. Then there is the issue of reproducibility, one of the fundamental tenets of scientific research. Attempts by other researchers to reproduce purportedly positive studies, especially when accompanied by tighter controls, simply fail. 
But true believers would continue to believe anyway. They refuse to see the flaws and failures and will get mesmerized by the 'magic'!

You can read part I here:

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Replies to This Discussion


History tells us every miracle will meet its nemesis when science steps in. Wait till that time.

What do most scientists believe happens after death?

Reality! No false illusions.

After our deaths and destruction of our physical bodies, we return back to the universe as individual atoms and energy, to the one body that recycles them and we all belong to whether we lived with our conscious bodies or existed as inanimate forms.

Read the detailed process here:

Science tries to strengthen our minds permanently by making us real...


How does it feel to complete your final PhD defense?

Yes, I faced an open viva, after the thorough external review of my Ph.D. work, where anybody from my field could ask any questions, get clarifications about my work, discuss it in detail and rip me apart. It was just introduced in my university and imagine I was the first person to face it.

My supervisor was very tense and asked me several times whether I could really face it. I was fully confident because I did all my work myself and didn’t depend on my guide for anything. It really helped me to become independent, innovative and a good researcher.

It was a four hour grueling marathon where the whole Microbiology Department of our university, apart from the three external examiners who reviewed my work, participated. I answered several of their questions and discussed my work in detail. In the end they allowed me to leave only when they exhausted all the questions and thought they cannot unsettle me in any way.

I think I gave satisfactory replies and made them accept what I did was good work.

It was such a relief too see a broad smile on my supervisor’s face when in the end everybody applauded my supervisor, not me, for making me so self-assured :) , which made my guide hug me tightly and pat on my back.

When all my colleagues and professors who too till then tried to ask tough questions and make me uncomfortable ( all in the name of science! ), were applauding in the end, my mind simply went blank. No emotions at all! I still don’t understand why.

Later on, of course , when it all started sinking in that I came out of it with flying colours, when everybody I know started congratulating me, then I thought, maybe, I did something worth doing. And I felt satisfied.

I am the only Ph.D. in my family and circle of friends and relatives and that makes them respect me in several ways. My parents were extremely happy. They all celebrated my success more than me! How to keep myself grounded despite all this is what I think all the time.


If what you are doing in your lab gives you a high, makes you highly satisfactory, lays a clear path before you, you can be sure that you really like it.




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