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Wednesday 27 February 2013

Science in India- Raman's vision

G.K. Rajesh
CEO and Member Secretary, Council for Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection, India

February 28, the day on which the discovery of Raman Effect was was officially announced by Sir. CV. Raman, is celebrated as 'National Science Day' in India. In the eve of National Science day, 2013, we remember Sir. CV. Raman, and his vision on scientific progress in India
Sir CV. Raman

The 2010 report of the Science Advisory Council to Prime Minister of India is titled “India as a Global Leader in Science”. It is interesting to see that the initial skepticism this title evokes in the minds of readers (about the validity of the claim) is shared by the authors. In the foreword to this vision-document, Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister asserts that it makes a realistic assessment of the opportunities that lie ahead and the challenges that the country face, in developing strong capabilities and acquiring global leadership in the area of science. The report in its very first page critically examines the validity of the growing perception around the world that India is one of the potential global leaders in science. Quoting a statement from the 2005 report of US National Academy of Science (NAS), that ‘the emergence of India and China as global leaders in science would pose challenges to the position held by US in the world of science’, it cautions the readers against getting carried away and categorically asserts that India is yet to become a major force in global science. The report goes on to illustrate that India has not produced any perceptible peak in the global distribution of number of scientific papers produced.

India’s strife towards building its own science began in the last decades of 19th century. This so called renaissance gave birth to a few world-class scientists in the country and one among them went on to bring home its first Nobel prize in science. Sir CV. Raman was a torch bearer of the Indian renaissance who strived till his last breath to cultivate true science in this country. This article takes a re-look at his vision and tries to assess the country’s progress in the lines envisioned by Raman.

The Nobel Prize won by C.V. Raman in 1930 for Physics was also India’s last one in science. It took 38 years for yet another scientist of Indian origin, to qualify this distinction. Har Gobind Khurana (1968), S. Chandrasekhar (1983) and Venkitaraman Ramakrishnan (2009) followed Raman’s foot prints but built their research career in foreign lands affiliated to foreign universities; hence their medals can’t be counted as India’s. In this context, it may be noted that independent India is devoid of any Nobel medal in science. Table 1 compares the number of Nobel medals in science, per capita GDP and Human Development Index of BRICS countries. India ranks lowest in HDI and Per capita GDP. While acknowledging the country of origin of the medallist, the Nobel foundation also mentions to which country and institution the person has been affiliated at the time of the award. In this count, India and Russia are the only BRICS nations with any Nobel laureate by affiliation. Russia has two medals and India has one. But for Raman, India wouldn’t have been in that list.
Table-1. Nobel medals of BRICS Countries (Source: World Bank Data)
Russia has a total of 17 medals: 12 before 1991 and 5 since then. However Russia, prior to 1991 can’t be counted among BRICS nations as until then it was a part of the super power, USSR. Out of the five Nobel medals received by Russia since 1991, two are its own by way of affiliation. Nevertheless these medals can’t be compared to the one brought home by Raman. While the post-Soviet Russia had inherited a great legacy of scientific advancement materialised by the erstwhile USSR, India had nothing of that sort. Raman’s research was largely homemade. A closer look at the medal count in table 1 reveals a fundamental issue prevailing in BRICS countries. These countries lack the ‘circumstances’ required for nurturing and leading young scientists to international recognitions like Nobel. The message they give out to the aspiring young scientist is very clear: ‘get out, if you want a medal’. Raman had clearly understood this and had the firm conviction that the only way to India’s scientific progress is to build her own science here. He spoke at the Mysore Chamber of Commerce on 18th April 1937

“If I am given a budget of ten lakhs a year for ten years and a free hand, I will solve all the problems connected with India’s scientific and industrial development, and place India in a position to produce everything from a battleship to a pin” (Uma Parameswaran, 2011)

Being a contemporary of Gandhi, Raman’s idea of self reliance in scientific research would have been influenced by the nationalist movement. How far-sighted Raman’s vision on self reliance in science was, is evident from the facts presented in table 2.

Table-2. Performance of BRICS countries in Scientific Research (Ranks within brackets) (Source: World Bank Data)
Table 2 compares the number of patent applications filed, export of high-tech scientific products and number of scientific publications from BRICS nations. China tops the list in all categories. India is in second or third position except in case of exports of high-tech products. However a comparison of the number of patent applications filed from India and that by Indians residing abroad reveals the true state of India’s scientific environment. The number of patents filed by Indian scientists from outside India is four times that those filed from India. While Brazil and South Africa share similar conditions, the case of China and Russia is different. 75% of China’s and 67% of Russia’s patent applications are filed from within those countries. This is a clear indicator, not only of the high levels of self-sufficiency these countries have attained in scientific research, but also of the fact that the number of scientists leaving these countries for research is much lesser when compared to India, Brazil and S. Africa. Raman had realised this danger in 1930s itself and had his own plans for preventing this intellectual leakage. He mentored two generations of scientists in this country.

During his tenure at Indian Association for Cultivation of Sciences, Calcutta University, IISc Bangalore, Central College and RRI, Bangalore Raman nurtured a large number of young researchers. S. Bhagavantam, Sathish Dhavan, A.S. Ganesan, G.N. Ramachandran, KS. Krishnan, Nagendranath, KR. Ramanathan, S. Chandrasekhar, A. jayaraman, PR. Pisharoty, HJ. Bhabha, Vikram sarabhai, S. Ramaseshan are to name a few, who went on to building science in this country. PR. Pisharoty speaks about the magnetic influence Raman had on his students.

“He inculcated in them (students) a capacity for long hours of work and a self- confidence that they can and should pit their brains against the best brains of the world. Under his magnetic personality, these qualities lasted at least as long as the students were with him; but alas, many of them lost these qualities soon after they moved away from his proximity. However, whenever any of them went to him, he re-generated those qualities in them through a few minutes of conversation.” (Pisharoty, 1971)

Let’s get back to the data presented in table 2. During 2010 the export of high-tech products from China was 28% of all exports of the country. In case of India it is just 7%. While China published 74,000 scientific papers India published only a quarter of it. A survey conducted by Nature in 2004 revealed that India occupies only 22nd position among countries that made impact-making scientific publications. China, South Korea and Poland are far ahead of India in this respect. India’s relative position in the world of science has declined in the last twenty years. We produce more science than before, but several more ambitious countries like China and S. Korea have outpaced us (DST, 2010). The 2010 report of Science Advisory Committee to Prime Minister of India points out that in order to contribute significantly to world science and to make an impact on it, India’s contribution to global scientific literature would have to rise to something like 10% (from the present 2% or so). Raman was a great champion of scientific writing. He is reported to have instructed his colleagues, the day before his death:

“Do not allow the journals of the Academy to die, as such journals are the only indicators as to whether science is taking root in our country or not” (Lynall, 2008)

Mary-Ellen Lynall, a researcher from Cambridge writes:

“Raman’s personal contribution to the development of scientific journals in India is astounding. When Raman entered science, there was no scientific journal of international repute in India . . . Holding positions of power does not in itself indicate strong support for Indian journals; as demonstrated by the many Indian scientists today who are associated with the editorial boards of Indian journals, yet publish abroad. Raman, however, was not in this category, writing 133 articles, 15 major book reviews and hundreds of short notices for ‘Current Science’ alone. . . Raman was truly the father of scientific publishing in India and Indian scientific publishing was undoubtedly most successful in the years when ‘Current Science’ and the ‘Proceedings’ were under his direction”

Today young scientists prefer to publish in high-impact international journals, which would fetch them international recognition and better citations. Some argue that there is nothing called Indian science and science is international. This may be true. But there is the question of identity of a scientific community. If scientists publish in a home journal, it gives identity to a scientific community. Experts say that a scientific community needs its own peer-review system to maintain its health (Lynall, 2008). Journals facilitate this.
Table. 3. Some Science and Technology indicators for select countries (Source: DST, 2010)
Table 3 compares the improvement made by India, China and S. Korea during the period from 1997 to 2006 in total number of scientific publications and percentage of high impact publications. This comparison clearly shows at what stupendous pace China’s scientific publications grew in a decade. S. Korea has also done extremely well, more so qualitatively. India has done well but not very well. The prescriptions made by Raman seventy years ago for building true science in India appear to be still relevant but not yet fully implemented. However the effect that he had left behind is still luminous, impelling and inspiring new generations of young minds. Let us hope that it would keep catalysing scientific progress in India for many more years to come.

Department of Science and Technology (2010) India as a Global Leader in Science; report of Science Advisory Council ti the Prime Minister

Lynall Mary-Ellen (2008) C.V. Raman’s work on scientific journals: legacy and lessons for Indian science. Current Science .Vol.94, No.03. p.305

Pisharoty.P.R (1971) Sir. CV. Raman as a teacher at Bangalore. Current Science No.9, p222

Uma Parameswaran (2011) C.V. Raman, A Biography. Pub. Penguin Books

1 comment:

S Ratnakumar said...

Good article which is thought provoking

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