Friday, November 19, 2010

India as a Global Leader in Science: Part III Encouraging and Protecting Innovations.

This blog has been written after much deliberation on whether it will serve some purpose as far as an “innovation Ecosystem” will be concerned. In any Innovation Ecosystem true innovation has to be first recognized, then encouraged and most importantly protected.

Innovation cannot be scavenged.

The blog is aimed at preventing future pitfalls and loopholes in an already fragile innoivative ecosysten. It is based on what may be construed to be true incidents. It ould have elements of a personal nature which may be only thinly veiled.

The actual scientific events are more than twenty five years old. It is not likely to make or damn anyone- Just as copyrights of things older than twenty five years can be violated without infringing on any one's rights, I guess.

The blog could have an element of whistle-blowing which is usually deemed as being unfair. On the other hand it could serves as an example to be avoided by both "junior" and "senior" scientists in an unnecessarily hierarchical society.

Whether the blog should have been posted or not is another matter.

This blog is primarily aimed at stopping the Indian madness to be recognized of being worthy by foreign agencies, be it the World Bank, or the Royal Society of England, or the American Science Academy.

It is ridiculous, as a recent example, to see the left, right and centre of Indian politics being so well-behaved in parliament in the presence of an US president, and, the very next day after the President and his enturage have left, the Indian politicians should behave in the most hooligan manner unite and stop the functioning of the Indian Parliament.

This slavery to an Alien authority drives the public behaviour of all our leaders in all fields, even as their pipers play a merry alien tune for their own gains.

It hurts when the recognition of a Foreign Academy is presumed to add authority to the status of a so-called professional "seeker of knowledge" at the expense of those who seek knowledge for the sake of understanding of their own environment that drive their own curiosities.

When a young and relatively obscure scientist is suddenly given an FRS in England and he becomes chairman of several scientific/planning commissions one may be accused of being very naïve to not to see ulterior motives akin to colonization through science.

Should it not be suggestive of an indirect influence of a foreign kind?

Can we not be kaamyaab (worthy) by ourselves?

Indian Science is not Indian if it is not derived from Indian roots and Indian experiences for understanding the essence of Indian living.
To be a global leader we need much more than affixing a foreign medal, of whatever kind.
It is another matter if Indian Science could and/or should add to a world vision for the benefit of ordinary honest men.

Whistle Blowing to protect Innovators

In an innovation ecosystem the highest place should be given to people who come up with new ideas … people who innovate.

Most time they are dismissed as mavericks --- an independent thinker who sees some reason for not conforming to the accepted views on a subject or being branded with a prevailing school of thought.

Somewhere in the internet it has been written that “It is a well known fact that employees are the biggest perpetrators of fraud and globally most high profile frauds have been unearthed through whistle-blowing practices. Despite this, the practice … is … mandatory for whistle-blowing incidents to be reported and monitored by the audit committee of the board."

Under the amendment to SEBI Clause 49 a whistle blower policy has been introduced "So as to detect frauds, irregularities and encouraging employees to come forward to Audit Committee ... " What is good for the stock exchange must also be good for a healthy system. So one assumes.

The perpetration of fraud charge is equally true for employers and bosses when they steal credit from those they deem to be their juniors/subordinates/slaves simply because they are funding their work/work-space. Whistle blowing on the boss/guide/employer is especially important in the field of research since the ill-effects of the fraud is to curb/subdue the enthusiasm of an young inventor.

One may say that theft of scientific credit happens and has happened throughout history. In modern life it is equivalent to the stealing of credit cards, that's all!

Scientific fraud could have happened even with Newton. An entry in Wikipedia for the Royal Society reads “During his time as President, Newton arguably abused his authority; in a dispute between himself and Gottfried Leibniz over the invention of Infinitesimal calculus, he used his position to appoint an "impartial" committee to decide it, eventually publishing a report written by himself in the committee's name.

The lesson to be learnt is that the work on calculus was be done by men with established authority in different subjects: competition between two schools refined the process to higher levels.
It is another matter altogether that there seemed to have been our own Kerala school (composed mainly of Nambudri Brahmins) which did all this a couple of centuries earlier (at least).

It is also another matter matter that men who are genius in some field may turn out to be quite ordinary in others, especially when they are not privy to some information and may not always be depended upon to give important opinions when they have little knowledge on them.
Both Newton and Leibnitz, sure as they were of their calculus and their physics, were mystified by as simple a thing as water. Newton, Boyle and Leibnitz seemed to agree that rock crystal was simple crystallized water. Newton seems to have said “I know no Body less apt to shine than Water; and yet Water by frequent distillation changes into fixed Earth…” (Now, in hindsight, why did Newton say that? I suppose it was not known at that time about the depression of melting point by adding salt.)

Still, the first criterion to talk about innovation ecosystems is to be an innovator. One cannot expect non innovators to recognize or throw new light on innovation.

It is easy to be an important personality in Indian Science if one consistently works on subjects in a new and refreshing manner. There are now several scientists who do so. They usually keep out of the administrative framework having little time to do so when they are being scholarly-innovative.

For some others, it is sometimes required to give the impression (to other so-called members of a "science" fraternity) that one is associated with the practice of good science. In such cases, the scientists imagine that they are gauged by how quickly they can cite the latest piece of scientific information, or, more importantly, how many zillions of dollars is being spent on research by the industry on a given topic.

On the whole, research guides rarely follow a theme of their own; they usually flit from one “hot” topic to another. They do not seem to have a talent for recognizing or creating true original work; nor have they the potential of recognizing the potential value of the seed of a new idea in an emerging piece of scientific work.

It is therefore not at all clear that standard research guide they should head innovation systems, not matter how many standard Ph. D.s they may have produced.

These research guides become especially insufferable when they use their position to usurp the work of their junior colleagues to obtain momentary gain in terms of a few papers without realizing the true potentials or the generic ideas that could have been exploited.

In such cases it is important that there is some system that allows tattling or whistle/blowing that has protective/corrective measures.

Flourishing innovative ecosystems can only come from a swift recognition-rewards system.

Indian ecosystems, which are usually hierarchy-based, do not encourage whistle blowing.

Moreover, the ingrained value systems of a deceived (usually junior) innovator make him/her averse to whistle blowing. They are silent because they forgive and, really, compared to other matters --- poetry, literature, love in the life of the living and the lived --- these things are trivial.

It need not be always trivial, however.

As the baul (bard) has said (in Othello, The Moore of Venice)
... Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands:
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

One need not remain poor in this case.

A truish story

Let me take, say, a case which may be deemed to be fictional except to those in the know.
The tale is in some detail and could be long, mainly because it is easier this way, but also because it gives an idea of opportunities missed if whistle blowing was allowed. Such situations may not have happened if science was first practiced as a philosophy instead of a career opportunity.

The story evolves around a true compound, La2CuO4. This compound gave the world its first experience of mass science hysteria that led to a quarter million pages of scientifically published literature, even if it did not provide a theoretical understanding nor a true application.

La2CuO4 changed the way science was to be practiced.

There are many who are in the know; they prefer to keep quiet for their own convenient reasons, extracting some mileage for their silence.

Nearly forty years ago, a motivated man wanting to do good science, got his Ph. D. in gas-phase heterogeneous catalysis from a small college in Madras (now Chennai). This young man, whom we will call KK, was deeply unsatisfied with the scholarship/learning that was involved in completing his Ph. D.

There was no philosophy in it.
He went on to an IITK because of a solid-state scientist R* (* for sending correspondence). R* had just then obtained a prestigious Royal society medal.

KK worked with R* as a post-doctoral fellow with a specific purpose of improving his understanding of two-dimensional surfaces of solids so as to understand aspects of heterogeneous catalysis better.

It soon became apparent that R* had no original contribution in the field.

R* had exceptional talents in several other areas.
R* was extremely charming and intelligent, with a voice that could carry across a crowded room.
R* has a fabulous memory which is well admired.
He has a great sense of humor for any occasion.
He has tremendous energy for multitasking.
He follows with great success the cut and paste tradition of writing books and reviews on other people’s work (without providing new insights).

At the KK joined R*, R*'s group followed a JBG who was (and continues) making waves with new insights and ideas.

JBG is the one who started systematizing work on three-dimensional perovskite oxides ABO3 and had some predictive notions. R* continued JBG's work apparently because of the large permutation combinations it gave; for instance, A could be one of 14 rare-earth elements and 3 alkaline earth elements and B could be one of thirty d-block elements.

(Chemical formulae have not been written in the usual way, because of typographical in conveniences)

On looking up the literature KK found that there are A2BO4 compounds which has alternating layers of ABO3 and AO and are thence regarded as two-dimensional perovskites. KK thought he could work on these compounds because of his interest in the chemistry of surfaces.

KK prepared/measured the electrical property of some of the known compounds at that time: La2NiO4, La2CuO4, Sm2CuO4 and Nd2CuO4 upto high temperatures (1000 C) making his own measurement cell. There was little original or exciting in the work. After the measurements KK wrote a report for R*. It was sent to JBG. JBG added his comments which were incorporated by R* almost verbatim and then sent to a journal (MRB) where it was published (1973) with JBG’s recommendation for publication (cited 101 times as per Google).

There was an accompanying paper by JBG in MRB interpreting the results (57 citations) and pointing out some possible directions for new physics in his own way.

KK thought that was a strange way for R* to do science especially since R* was an important medal-winning scientist. By the time the paper was published KK became more aware of the mechanics of science and lost interest in R*’s science. There were no jobs in the market.

When KK finally got hold of the whole 1973 volume of MRB he saw an article by P. W. Anderson (PWA) on resonating valence bond (RVB) in low-dimensional spin-half systems. KK noted that as La2CuO4 was such a system. The article by PWA ended with a line which went something like “…whether RVB systems will lead to ODLRO is not clear”… .

Some years later in early 1979-1980 KK was in closer contact with G44 the fourth name in alphabetical order of a seminal paper (~2500 citations) by four authors (referred to as G4 after the then counter revolutionary Chinese “gang of four”) on a scaling theory for electron localization. KK asked G44 what ODLRO meant and G44 said it really meant whether there will be superconductivity or not.
This started KK’s interest in superconductivity in La2CuO4 although he had no idea about other consequences of superconductivity.

There was no system available to KK at that time to measure magnetic properties to temperatures below 77 K where superconductivity was to be expected. KK thought he would instead measure magnetic properties temperatures greater than 77 K. He wanted to know whether La2CuO4 would show magnetic properties consistent with a RVB state or whether it would be typical of two-dimensional antiferromagnet. KK did the experiments on his own for his own interest although the results would be used for one of R*’s students.

KK had a classical antique balance which he used as a Guoy balance for measuring magnetic properties. A tube filled with the substance under investigation was hung from one of its arms and dipped into a long Dewar. There was no temperature controller. One simply poured liquid nitrogen little by little to cool the system and measured the magnetic susceptibility when the temperature had stabilized. One reached liquid nitrogen temperature this way. One then waited for the liquid nitrogen to evaporate of and the temperature to rise to make the measurements on the heating cycle. For the kind of accuracy KK was looking for this was sufficient.

KK was not a pioneer in the field but he certainly worked under outdated pioneering conditions. Funding was very low and practically non-existent. KK would not ask.

In these balances one moves a mechanical lever to release the balance and then wait for the oscillations of the balance arm to settle down. One then adjusts a vernier to bring the balance to the zero position. This balance could measure at best to an accuracy of 10 microgram.

The balance was in a higher position than what was convenient. One had to climb a stool to make the final adjustments.

When KK had to make the magnetic susceptibility measurements on La2CuO4 the accuracy of the measurement was still not good enough. Because of the Dewar the magnetic pole pieces had to be moved apart and the maximum magnetic field was not much more than 3000G. The oscillations in the balance were much more than the changes in the weight on the application of a magnetic field. So, the balance lever was let loose, KK would close his eyes, count in his head till 20; open his eyes and a reading would be taken and recorded without any bias. Five such readings would be taken for each temperature and each field. The measurements were carried out between 77K and 450 with 10 K intervals at four different magnetic fields. This meant there were 5x4x40 measurements to be made, each time climbing up the stool to make a reading. That means roughly 800 measurments for each arm of the temperature cycle. One would spend easily 30-45 minutes for each temperature to equilibrate and make measurements. Nearly 80 - 120 hrs non-stop measurements were required to complete the experiment. KK had to walk or cycle back in the night for my sleep. It took KK close to seven days to finish the experiments.

KK saw the maximum he was looking for when he plotted the results. There was also a weak magnetic field dependence which indicated a weak ferromagnetism. This indicated more complications such as a canting of spins in an antiferromagnet and other physic-chemical consequences regarding crystal of La2CuO4. More measurements were repeated to confirm the trend.

After the chat with G44, KK’s interpretation of PWA’s 1973 RVB was that un-doped La2CuO4 would be superconducting. This was strengthened later chiefly by Chakraverty’s phase diagram in a 1979 paper on the insulator/superconductor transition which was based on a bipolaron model. The electrical resistivty of La2CuO4 was around 0.1 - 1 ohm cm which was above Mott’s minimum metallic conductivity at the composition induced insulator-metal transition in ABO3 systems

KK made what he thought was a good stoichiometric sample of La2CuO4 by heating it in oxygen (since it could be oxygen-deficient) and R* sent it to one S---y K--n for measurement of magnetic susceptibility ostensibly to see whether it behaved like a 2D antiferromagnet of the type discussed in 1974 by de Jongh and Miedema. KK didn’t know what happened to the measurement. In answer to queries to R*, KK would be told that there was some difficulty in the measurements.
A paper by Saez-Puche and others on the magnetic properties of La2CuO4 in 1982 in which no evidence for diamagnetism was detected made KK postpone the examination of superconductivity in La2CuO4.

It was apparent that the insulator-superconductor transition in La2CuO4 was not likely
It would transpire much later that oxygen-doped La2CuO4 would be metallic and superconducting.

KK would continue to pursue, when he could, the area of oxides with K2NiF4 structure. By this time there were two other important insights that KK had. One of these was that there was no ABO3 ferromagnet that had its ferromagnetic counterpart in 2D. The second of these is that at that time there were no A2BO4 compounds which were metallic.
The latter was consistent with the G4 scaling theory.
Increased coherence in 2D rendered the systems non-metallic.
The obvious question then was could they be superconducting? Maybe a little bit of coupling in the third dimension would help were KK’s thoughts.

His first full student, KKS, joined him around 1980. He thought KKS should work on oxides with K2NiF4 structure. KK had asked his student KKS (around 1981) to prepare Sr-doped La2CuO4 for the specific purpose of looking for superconductivity (hoping it could be as high as 12K -15K as in Sleight’s compounds). His idea then was one required a third-dimensional coupling between layers.

R* advised KKS to work instead on Nd-substituted La2CuO4 and KKS spent too much time on that. There is no chemistry in superconductivity, R* argued.
KKS was from rural Bihar where full implications of a hierarchical caste system was experienced and practiced daily as a part of life. I tried to persuade him. But he had his own career in his career of science to worry about. He stuck to his hierarchy.

KK wrote a long note on the structure-property relationship in A2BO4 oxides along with some of the results he had already published on them. In 1983 KK left for a sabbatical in Bordeaux France and came back in 1984. The note was meant as an introduction and as a guidance for KKS’s further thesis work. KK would have liked to have published papers from KKS’s thesis only after the thesis was completed.

In Bordeaux itself KK did two things.
The first thing was that KK had to write a D. Sc. thesis. For some reason, he became involved on oxides containing trivalent nickel. He found that the properties could be explained if one considers a “hole on oxygen”. This idea he had taken from JBG’s idea about holes in the sulphur band to account for the instability of Fe2S3 to disproportionation to FeS and FeS2.

The second thing was that he wanted to make one-dimensional oxides of copper metallic and see if there was high temperatures superconductivity trying to learn from the experience on A15 superconductors. For this he had chosen Bi2CuO4, Sr2CuO3 and the green Y2Cu2O5. Among the compounds he had tried were compounds in the Bi-Sr-Cu-O systems and some in the Y-Ba-Cu-O systems. The compounds he had obtained were good conductors. They were not single phase. In those days one did not measure any property until the phase-purity was established. .

When KK came back he learnt that the note he had prepared as an introduction for KKS’s thesis had been sent to the Journal of Solid State Chemistry with KKS, KK and R* as author. There was little change in the manuscript. The only change that I had incorporated was to note that none of the metallic compounds derived from ABO3 compounds were metallic in the layered A2BO4 compounds. After the publication, KK learnt that. KKS’s name was removed shamelessly without KK’s knowledge from the authorship. The contents of this paper still formed the first chapter of KKS’s thesis.

This manuscript became well cited when high-temperature superconductivity broke out like a scourge on the world scene. When R* got a million dollar “dhan-dhana-dhan” award much later from Israel, La2CuO4 would be the only specific compound to be mentioned. KK did not get a mention any time from any of his colleagues (forget R*), for this.

Between 1984 and 1985 KK would give talks on resonating valence bond and metallicity as well as the prospect of superconductivity at high temperatures (in those days high-temperatures mean something like 12/15 K( in La2CuO4 using Chakravorty’s bipolaron mechanism The latter talk was attended by G44 and R* among others.
KK and the others went for our lunch after the talk.
R* took the trouble of getting out of the car and warned/advised KK to give up on such crazy ideas and settle down. That hurt KK a lot that day.

KK had prepared in Bordeaux in the years 1983-1984 a compound in the Bi-Sr-Cu-O system which was conducting. He had a suspicion that it could be superconducting. When KK came back to India he gave it for measurement to the physics department which had measurement possibilities at liquid He temperature. The liquid helium plant happened to break down at that time. When they eventually measured it after a year or so they did not find superconductivity even if it turned out later that this sample gave gave X-ray- and electron-diffraction patterns almost identical to the so-called 2214 phase with a superconducting transition temperature of 10 K. That was lower than the temperature he could have gone down to in his closed-cycle refrigeration plant.

On the first day KK got the news about High Tc in LaBaCuO systems. It was evident that it was an oxide with the K2NiF4 structure. KK went back to his lab immediately trying several routes to increase the superconducting transition temperature. He spent nearly two weeks in the laboratory. R* wouldn’t assign anyone to help KK. KK guessed later that R* did this so that others would not know about KK’s ideas. This proved fatally slow.

In the meanwhile KK had asked another of his student KKS to work on the Y-Ba-Cu-O system. Within a few trials KKS informed me that he had superconductivity between 85-90 K. This was on the day that 90 K superconductivity was reported in the Y-Ba-Cu-O system referring to the presence of a green phase. KK and KS knew that the green phase was Y2Cu2O5. KK and KS had to wait to find a single phase. KK had a smattering knowledge of crystal structure determination thanks to his stay in Bordeaux. He indexed the phase as orthorhombic. The superconducting transition temperature was 90 K.

Word had gone round to the Raman Research Institute through KK’s family friend RN. The director of RRI had invited KK to give a talk on KK’s findings. For some vicarious reason KK refused.

When R* was informed about KK/KS’s findings his first question was about the green phase. R* showed discomfort on hearing our news perhaps because the green phase was not present. After all R* loved to be confidently second It took a phone call from an Indian (SAS) in IBM giving inside information on the orthorhombic crystal structure of the 90 K superconductor. R* pleaded with the editorial board of Nature and got a paper in Nature claiming to be the first but really being a distant second.

If only R* was not afraid of being first!

Once the 123 composition was know R* became the “first” to be second with nobody caring. Tons of papers were published doing minor chemical substitutions without looking at a new philosophy. KK had little interest in these studies.

That was not the only way that KK was denied success in areas of high temperature superconductivity.

There was a young man RAM-R who had taken over all aspects of KKS’s thesis before 87 and benefited from the thesis by publishing most of the work as a co-author with R*’s active participation.

Access to low-temperature measurements were being made extremely difficult. RAMR virtually took over all the low-temperature equipments. The search for an above room temperature superconducting transition was on. KK could not find it. His stock was low. RAMR got a 300 K transition for R*.

KK thought he had a new philosophy. KK wanted to follow the Bi-Sr-Cu-O system and the thallium series Tl-Pb-Ba-Sr-Cu-O system. KK chose Tl and Bi and Pb with inert 6s2 pair of electrons because of KK’s interest in double valence fluctuation in these systems and the possibility that double valence fluctuation could increase superconducting transition temperature through, what would be now called, a proximity effect.

KKs student KS, who made the 90 K superconductor on almost his first attempt, was to do the BiSrCu system. KS couldn’t get access to the measurement machines. KS is a sensitive boy and did not like the coarse dadagiri attitudes of RAMR. He refused to work on BiSrCu system as he was feeling insulted and humiliated by being denied access to furnaces and cryostats. He worked instead on the insulator-superconductor-metal transition in the La-Sr-Cu-O system.

The Tl-Pb-Ba-Sr-Cu-O system was being done by a new student of mine, Manohar Pandian (MP), a very happy tall young man. MP would come late in the night (around 2 am) as that was the only time MP had access to measurements. He was making progress. There was evidence for a 120 K transition. MP was run over by a truck late in the night on his way on his motorbike from the hostel to the lab and lost his life. There was no RTI at that time. That ended KK’s efforts in HiTc.

At no point in this scenario did KK think he was worthy of the Nobel prize.
He only regretted that he did not have more confidence in himself.

If you would like to know, just as a laugh, KK is working on something which he thinks is a new approach and which has the potential for many good things if only he can fight his way through.

Encouraging and Protecting Innovators

The story of R* is not atypical. It is probably more common in countries where the GDP per capita is low.

Typical R* behaviour is found in laboratories which would like to claim leadership in a short time.

The first US conference on the High-Temperature Superconductivity (HiTc) phenomenon in early 1987 as the Woodstock of American Science. Why? I don't know.

These HiTc conferences raised such hysteria that the sale of low-temperature measuring equipments for obtaining high-temperature superconductors must have reached such high levels that every other science company was hoping to promote a similar hysteria in other discoveries.

It generated standard frauds in science, throwing to the powerful propaganda/advertising winds of front page of newspapers. There began claims of higher and higher temperatures for superconducting transition temperatures. It also began the avoidance of using standard peer-review procedures.

Peer review journals of highest standards added to this hysteria. Nature magazine of London, for example, gave respectability to an Indian claim for superconductivity above room temperature.

Such peer journals saw their global power rise. That began the process of getting alost divine rights to control what is good and bad science. It probably restored on them the ability to decide in some cases what science had the greatest money-genreating possibility for the science industry.

One such case must be the way John Maddox, the editor of Nature, personally oversaw the appearance and destruction of a paper in Nature that would have supported some of the conclusions of homeopathy. This led to the execution by slow death of French Scientist Jaques Benveniste. Maddox's execution team which judged Benveniste's work included an illusionist as well as a fraud expert.


This act of scientific witch hunting should have been a disgrace. It was not, because the pharmacy industry must have wished it.

The science industry began requiring other money-spinning discoveries. Cold fusion was the first attempt in this direction, then bucky balls, then colossal magnetoresistance, supercapacitors, genome sequencing, GMO foods.

In the meanwhile honourable/respectable scientists JBG continued with his quiet and determined science in the good old way, giving away alternative Nobel prizes to charities and probably not getting the real Nobel prize because other Nobel contenders were trying to tag onto his work.

A highly callous and extremely successful example of peer-review-journal-encouraged scientifc fraud is the Schon case.
He claimed to have made the world's first organic electrical laser!
He also claimed the smallest ever transistor!
"In this case, the private sector and individual investigators came though for integrity where big media journals did not. In May 2002, Bell Labs/Lucent began an investigation but, surprise, Schön said he kept no laboratory notebooks and his raw-data files had been deleted from his computer because his hard drive just wasn't big enough. Bell Labs fired him, Science withdrew eight papers written by him and the University of Konstanz later revoked his PhD (can they do that? The fraud was after the PhD). Physical Review Journals also withdrew his papers in 2002 as well and finally in 2003 Nature withdrew seven peer-reviewed papers he had written as well."(

Gary Taubes, who is an author of works based on scientific "frauds" would state the obvious "I used to joke with my friends in the physics community that if you want to cleanse your discipline of the worst scientists in it, every three or four years, you should have someone publish a bogus paper claiming to make some remarkable new discovery — infinite free energy or ESP, or something suitably cosmic like that. Then you have it published in a legitimate journal ; it shows up on the front page of the New York Times, and within two months, every bad scientist in the field will be working on it."

At least one person in the SAC would score high on this.

The high-tech science hysteria was sought to be propagated by various ways. It involved highly sophisticated methods of fraud which opened whole new avenues for research funding of the very expensive kind. A typical example is the Schon case emerging from a highly prestigious laboratory. Not coincidentally, this laboratory was in the forefront of the glory days of HiTc.

The worrying aspect of the Schon case was the absence of whistle blowing. In her book 'The rise and fall of a physics fraudster', (Physics World, May 1, 2009) Eugenie Samuel Reich, seems to have written "Science was corrected in the Schön case; but not by itself – only because individual scientists made corrections. From would-be replicators in dozens of labs to many sceptics, only a couple of researchers were transformed into whistle-blowers by the unlikely pattern of [duplicated] evidence. ... to turn review processes at journals into opportunities for additional fabrication. Other scientists' support of the fraud was unwitting, but the decision to place so much trust in a colleague was a conscious rationalisation that continues to be defended in science to this day."

In the war of science that takes place in the science industry any kind of war strategies become allowed. When in Japan, I learnt that they reveal in their patents only what they would like their competitors to waste their research time and money on. For the best strategies they would have to higher the best lawyers as well as scientific imagination not only to protect by not revealing what is their true interest but by protecting what they would only pretend to protect.

Science Vision Documents set up by Scientists should protect itself from Innovative Fraud systems that has been apparently put in place firmly by the science war industry of the high GDP/capita world. As a counterpoise the low GDP/capita nation may have spontaneously given the world a Non-innovative reverse-engineering out-sourcing industry.

So, how will genuine innovation be protected and improved in a low GDP/capita nation when all is fair in science and war?

Very little it would seem when there is no protection.

One could start with giving credit to innovators.
This would require a different scientocracy (autocratic scientific bureaucracy).

A whistle-blowing system should also take the role of an internal auditor and the program itself should be open for scrutiny and examination (much like the right-to-information act).

Such open-ness could hardly be useful per se in the profit-making side of the science industry.

However, it should be very important in the "Honge Kamyaab" part of a science vision for a country which is proud of itself.

For such a country, it need not be commercially important in becoming a global leader in the "Science of Small Things".

Thursday, November 18, 2010

“India as a Global Leader in Science” Part II … Honge Kaaamyaab

II. 1. Prelude

A seemingly silly Hindi movie Jaane Bhi do Yaaro left a wonderful impression on me in the early eighties when I had crossed my over-the-forty hill and had nothing to show for it. This movie had the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Ravi Baswani, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor, Satish Shah, late Bhakti Barve, Neena Gupta and Vidhu Vinod Chopra (he had the last line in the credits for actors). The genius of the movie is that it was hailed as the beginning of a new comedy cult. Its director was Kundan Shah who would appear sometime later with an equally remarkable and very dearly loved television series called Nukkad.

Among the many reasons that I liked this movie was the song Honge Kaamyab. At that time I thought it was one of those independence or freedom-movement kind of songs. I thought or I was told it might have come from Martin Luther King’s “we shall overcome” speech from the American Civil Rights movement. I did not know at that time that “we shall overcome” was actually a song. The tune of the Honge Kaamyab song was so definitely Indian in its style that I couldn’t imagine it to be American at all. Not even (or perhaps especially) after hearing the way Joan Baez sang it fifty years ago.

The American “we shall overcome” song may now be regarded as a typical anthem adopted by the world fighting against injustice and inequality under a ruling class. The song with the same tune appeared in several languages. In places where the communists were strong such as Bengal or Kerala, the title of the song became transliterated to Amra korbo joy or Nammal Vijayikkum as one would expect regimented minds in orthodox doctrines to do. The identical tunes of the two songs. "we shall overcome" and "honge kaamyaab" must suggest to such minds that the meanings are as nearly the same as are their tunes. For the regimens of leading soap-bubble intellectuals, this is what is suggested through the character of SRK in My Name is Khan.

It is not at all clear to me (or, as it seems, to some others) that “honge kaamyaab” has anything to do with overcoming anything of the externally imposed kind. Kundan Shah, the director of Jaane bhi do yaaro, is not our soap-bubble intellectual. Remember his film was released by the National Film Development Corporation of India on August 12th, 1983. You couldn’t get a more stubborn intellectual than that. The movie itself did not have any song sung by its characters. The song Honge Kaamyab comes to the mind of these two leading characters who fail in their first venture at business.

Honge kaamyaab, honge kaamyaab, hum honge kaamyaab ek din
ho ho mann main hai vishwas, poora hai vishwas, hum honge kaamyaab ek din

Which is almost a word by word translation of the lyrics of “we shall overcome”:-

We shall overcome, we shall overcome, We shall overcome some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome some day

The critical differences, if you like, is the mind over the heart (mann main hai vishwas over Oh, deep in my heart and the use of the word kaamyaab for overcome.

I prefer to view the word kaamyaab in the context of na kaamyaab. The latter may be unambiguously associated with “worthless” in which case kaamyaab would mean worthy. Honge kamyaab would men “we will be worthy” (worthy = commendable, praiseworthy, laudable, admirable, valuable, precious, creditable; from Thesaurus)

As one of the lead characters would say “Hamesha yaad rakhogi! mehenath aur imandari ka phal hamesha milta hai

II. 2. “Give us” versus “We will”

Among the words Indian Scientists would love to use to remind the government of their responsibilities towards them is that paraphrased in Churchill’s plea to America’s Roosevelt during his third term.
Give us the tools and we will finish the job.
The result of this was that the British did their job, the Americans came out of their economic slump from the profits of selling these tools.

The Science Vision Document of the Science Advisory Council could be making such a “give us” demand.
The world’s scientific equipment supplying companies would be licking their chops for this bonanza.

Another vision the SVDSAC may have is to ask, as JFK did of his fellow American Countrymen,
… ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

This the Americans did in many ways including landing a man on the moon… but, as one can see now, not very satisfyingly as far as the future economy went …

The Science Vision panelists could say “we have already done enough for the country! We have stayed here!” They may indeed believe it.

There still may be another really simple way!

Hum Honge Kaamyaab!

Just be true to yourself and be worthy of yourself. The rest should follow.

It’s not what you are without but what you have within.

To allow this to happen a whole lot has to change as it must.

It need not be a quakeful change.

At worst it would involve only the doing away of a gerintrocity (?) that has done little to inspire and lead (that is the important word) on new science or technologies.

It cannot be an orthodox change.
We cannot continue to allow the glitter of expensive new equipments and buildings to establish a value on Indian science, say, at an all-important Nehru family level with Churchill’s “give us the tools” appeal.

Hopefully, signs of a new young India, not of the glamour and tinsel kind, but perhaps of a new Gandhi kind, are emerging spontaneously with all its unorthodox appeal and hopes.

Honge kamyaab.

II. 3. Buzz of “Innovation Ecosystem”

At the Science Congress of India the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, spoke about an "innovation ecosystem" where "Innovators must be challenged to produce solutions our society needs. And innovative solutions with potential must be nurtured and rapidly applied," Accordingly the phrase “innovative ecosystem” finds mention in two places in the SVDSAC.

In the list of pressing problems for India (page 13 of SVDSAC, Box 2) we have “Strengthening the Innovative Ecosystem” and mentioning the weak innovative ecosystem for not scaling up the good basic science (all done long before independence) into new technologies. There is no mention what kind of basic science could or would henceforth be used for the “innovative ecosystem” which is the new buzzword.

The buzz on innovative ecosystem has become strong after globalization failed to deliver third world markets to USA or Europe because of, say, the unforeseen resilience of China and India to economic domination and the growth, instead, of “outsourcing” as a viable and strong independent economic mode. What was not expected was that the knowledge gained from one “outsourcing” exercise was then sold as home-built expertise to other markets in need of this expertise. This is especially likely when the notion of loyalty beyond local boundaries is not strictly ingrained.

The Chinese have become experts in the game. According to CNN (04/11/10) Air-bus is selling 100 airlines to China for some unheard of amount with the proviso that some of the planes will be manufactured in China. The CNN expert then goes on to add that, knowing the Chinese, they will use this plane-building exercise to take off on plane building on their own.

This is the worrying aspect of the erstwhile innovate-and-profit logic of west European societies.

Egils Milbergs, founder and president of the Center for Accelerating Innovation in USA would write that the basis of competitive advantage is being changed because of “unprecedented pace of change” in globally networked economies which encourage industrial spying especially for knowledge-disadvantaged societies.

We may assume a pace of change to be uncontrollably fast when there is no time for litigation to decide what is new and what is stolen so that patenting has no meaning. Technologies then become disruptive and hitherto standard manufacturing practices create organizational rigidity.

Simply having an innovative idea will not be sufficient in market and outsourcing driven economies. “A highly evolved innovation ecosystem enables participants to work across enterprise boundaries, focus on customer value creation, respond quickly to shifts in market demand, accelerate the transition from research to production and be more adaptive to change.

Instead of being original, plagiarizing another is now considered by some to be most economically meaningful. This is the paradigm shift that European countries could be most concerned with.

There is a recent newspaper article (DNA, Pune 04/11/2010) by one R. Jagannathan on “The upside of plagiarism…” where he justifies (I don’t know if he has a tongue in his cheek ----he has notgiven grounds for us to hink so) plagiarism since “… it speeds up the spread of knowledge at the cost of slightly retarding innovation.” He goes on to write and emphasize what is well known “Indian business has boomed on plagiarism. The Indian pharma industry has been built on the basis of reverse engineering” (an euphemism for copying). He adds Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) “… is the refuge of the rich while copying is benfecial to the poor”.

I am sure that R. A. Mashelkar, the champion of IPR in India, would be relieved to hear this.

Jagannathan’s columns are not required to have an internal consistency. They serve the purpose of the moment and turn arguments on their head depending on the commercial angle. As P. G. Wodehouse might have said “The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of a gun.“ So it must be with IPL.

The larger point here is not, however, whether commercial houses should indulge in plagiarism or not. Making profits by cheating is the birthright of business houses as compared to the warrior or priestly castes.

The success of the IPL (the intellectual variety and not the cricket one) depends on the strengths of a legal system and the willingness of a country to enforce it.

India is simply not prepared for a war in an innovation battle. Indian companies have little chance of selling on a large scale plagiarized products to commercially powerful countries and getting away with it forever.

We have no experiencing of winning substantial wars based on novelty of products except perhaps in the non-Karan-Johar song and dance routines of Bollywood films.

To be perpetually making profits means to be perpetually innovating … besides bluffing and misguiding and cheating and “killing” off stubborn competitors in the process.

The need for perpetually innovating is what leads to an innovative ecosystem which I illustrate below (click to expand) having borrowed the diagram for a digital ecosystem and replacing digital by innovative.

The heart of this ecosystem is the innovative ecosystem structure. The SVD of the SAC has opted to stay out of this structure.

I have no idea what resources the Planning Commission has in mind. except the mission set up by the World Bank, the erstwhile boss of the present chairman of the Planning Commission (Montek Singh Ahluwalia) as well as the present Prime Minister.

As far as I am aware (and I am likely to be unaware) the only Indian industry that has led to an all-round all pervasive growth is the two-decade old so-called information technology (IT) or as others would say outsourcing. However, this prowess has not helped it become a centre of innovation unlike that of the innovative ecosystem of Silicon Valley where working ideas of start-up companies are quickly sold out to major companies. IT and other smaller “outsourcing” income including those which export labour of all kinds (from chambermaids to visiting professors) is sufficient to drive economic growth in other sectors in perhaps an insular way.

“Outsourcing” does not require innovation but only “implementation” as The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has rightly said. Basic skills are required in this “implementation ecosystem” rather than basic science or research demanded from the “innovative ecosystem”.

NASSCOM makes the point that India's contribution in the software industry is ( heavily tilted towards the "implementation" part of the innovation cycle which is about coming up with ideas, implementing them so as to realize value in them. “Implementing” is to be taken as euphemism for “outsourcing” which is another euphemism for just being a clerk.

II. 4. The SAC Potential

The Science Advisory Council (SAC) to the Prime Minister of India does not have (and they will be the first to admit to it) scientists who have set the world on fire by their discovery or discoveries. They have at best the credentials to be considered as fellow scientists by the science community.

As government rules requires most members of the council who call themselves scientists are heads of institutions who have brought the science in India to its present state, good or bad, or just plain and average which they usually are.

There is this peculiar syndrome among scientists in India. Once they consider themselves to be good they want to administer science institutions or laboratories. If among all the complex administrative work they want to be seen doing science they usually have the help of the willingly or unknowingly fawning (flattering, groveling, creeping) subordinates to churn out results/papers. These papers borrow the style and require the content of recently published and deemed important papers in leading journals preferably of the west.

One cannot expect such a bunch of scientists to deliver on a new paradigm for development of a country such as India.

It is now more than 60 years since independence which saw the ruling political party encourage science in India mainly through the universities. It is interesting that most of the members of the SAC are from Central Universities or Centrally funded national laboratories. The central funding for science has risen from ~ 5000 crores in 2000-01 to ~ 25000 crores in the year 2007-08 (Fig 3 of the Science Vision Document (SVD) of the SAC or SVDSAC. On the other hand the funding for the universities has been stagnant in the same period rising from ~1500 crores in 2000-01 to ~ 2000 crores in 2007-2008.

It is no wonder that the statistical performance of Indian varsities has not been world-worthy.

Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) is a company specializing in education and study . It gives various weights to various review methods. The maximum weightage is given to Academic Peer Review (40 per cent), Faculty Student Ratio and Citations per Faculty gets 20 per cent each while International Orientation and Recruiter Review gets 10 per cent each. According to a QS survey the ranking of the top universities in the world for 2010 has the following Asian universities in the top 400.

Hong Kong 24, Kyoto 25, Singapore 31, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 40 Chinese University of Hong Kong 42, Peking University 47, Osaka 49, Seoul National University 50, Tsinghua University 54, Tokyo Institute of Technology 60, Nanyang Technological University (SG) 74, Nagoya University 91, Tohoku University 102, City University of Hong Kong 129, Yonsei University (KR) 141,IIT Bombay (187), IIT Delhi 202, University of Indonesia 236, IIT Kanpur 249, IIT Madras 262, IIT Kharagpur 311, University of Delhi 371, IIT Roorkee 401-450,

QS is known to make serious errors in evaluating various universities. The surprising feature is that city universities such as Singapore and Hong Kong from Asian countries should figure in the top 50. The highest Indian rating is an IIT at 187. Indian Institute of Science does not figure in the top 500. In a survey of the TopStudyLinks Indian institute of science is 565 in the world and 65 in Asia as compared to the highest Indian position of 45 in Asia (461 in the world) of IIT Bombay.

The QS ratings may not be reflected in other surveys. However, none of these surveys put any Indian University in the top 150. The institutions represented by their heads in SAC are most probably (if not certainly) not the leaders in world science.

Borrowing from the data of the GDP per capita one finds (in thousands of dollars percapita per year) European Union ~ USA ~ 45 Japan ~ 40, Singapore ~ 36, Hong Kong 29, China ~ 3.7 Indonesia 2.3, India ~ 1.0. We have only done better than Indonesia!

The painful conclusion is that the ranking of a university is only as good as its GDP per capita.
The question that arises is which came first high GDP or the high ranking. There will be, as always, two sides of the story.

II. 4. 1. Get a High University Rank and the High GDP follows.
So far, I think, Indian Science Administrators have used arguments which say give us the money for equipping us with the tools of science and we will deliver on the knowledge base that will ensure economic growth.

Lamenting about the lack of facilities in India Professor C. N. R. Rao, perhaps the most felicitated and facilitated Indian scientist ever, is said to have said while delivering a lecture on "India as a global leader in Science: A vision for India" "We have a tendency to waste time on small things. A scientist in the lab will be more worried about lack of drinking water and he will waste precious days about this doing no work on his research."

It is remarkable that we are yet to establish a “Science of Small Things” which will emerge fresh and original among the "science of old things", especially after so many years of lack of small things!

On the other hand, we seem to be happy to pride ourselves and seem to have found our true space when elected to a Third World Academy of Sciences because of our lack of small things.

Individually, the scientists in SAC are not pioneers in aspects of world science. Most of them take on themselves the maximum prestige of the journals in which their papers have been published. It does not matter whether these papers have generic ideas or techniques. In general, when the scientific ideas se ideas are good, the leaders in world science have citations in several thousands for their important paper(s). We don’t have that for SAC scientists for any of their papers published from India.

There are notable exceptions of scientists in the SAC. These are usually not head of any institution. There is at least one whose scientific insights (especially when broached with an unknown problem) are regarded very highly at all levels of scientists from undergraduates to Nobel laureates. Some others are worth the weight of their manuscripts that have come into print and whose (what I call) “cit-mon index” (number of citations per paper divided by the amount of money received as financial grant) would not be much better than many self-effacing others who are (and continue to be) solely motivated by their science.

It is possible that we have little expertise of what really constitutes an important, original and generic idea. By this I mean there is little expertise in recognizing research proposals which give an outside chance of generating evidence for an idea that will start (emphasis on start) a bull run in the investment market and/or in the citation market.

There is a chemist in the SAC who has the word “new” or “novel” in the title of 30-40% of his his publications. I am not aware of any non-review paper of this scientist that has a citation that is anything like a respectable number (say, 50). Although the number of citations is not always a serious indicator of the quality of one’s work, it is always considered by science evaluators to judge rankings.

Since our science seems to be measured by bureaucratic standards, the Indian Scientists need to be seen to be publishing in “high impact factor” journals. They require to conform to the commercial standards set by these journals.

As a result they lose out on originality of the genuine first-of-its-kind kind.

We do not seem to have a fearless Ulysses who will say
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
… … …
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

It is perhaps a problem of the Indian psyche that we do not have an equivalent of Ulysses in our myths and epics to inspire us to be fearless explorers right from our childhood. It is not sufficiently important to get an original idea and publish it as a full paper. In modern times, it is important to treat it as war and establish the idea by publishing follow-up papers, traversing the world giving seminars and fighting for priority. It is many times critically dependent on the backing of a scientific authority or power at home.

Our post-independence science tradition (except perhaps for GNR and GMRT) does not seem to have such examples.

The SAC of the PM could start by finding people who can recognize a native Ulysses before some other foreign land does so. Obsequious sycophancy cannot be allowed to continue sustaining itself on promises of another land than ours.

II. 4. 2. Get a High GDP and the High University Rank follows.

Bringing up the GDP of a low-GDP nation can only mean that it increases the dependence of the top crust of the low-GDP nation to directions given by a high-GDP nation. These directions are usually given in the form of condescending World Bank Guidelines which tells you for what and when kind of development you may expect funding with which and where conditions.

The GDP per capita is a more meaningful index only when the wealth is more uniformly distributed, more legally scrutinized, and more contained within a country than in foreign banks. This does not seem to be the case in India.

Increasing the GDP or GDP per capita is an economic issue which does not seem to have (at least to this admittedly inexperienced blogger) straightforward answers.

If the SVDSAC is to make India a global leader in science, there need be some mechanism by which it is so rated. The positioning of its universities in a global ranking scheme could be one such mechanism.

As we have concluded from GDP per capita analysis one should have a high GDP per capita for a high university ranking.

The process of getting a high GDP is not left in the hands of scientists, especially like those in the SAC, who work their way through using research grant proposals from Government based on published or conference-presented literature.

That assures a five-year technology gap and a technology application only after patents are more than 25 years old (normally).

Realistically speaking, a high GDP comes from profit-motive driven individuals making lots of profits. The top 10% of the world’s population owns 85 % of the world’s wealth.

These individuals force the universities to work to protect the way they make their profits either through legal advice or through technical developments or both.

Implicit in the acceptance of these statistics is that the rich know how to hold on to their riches better.
That used to be true until 2008; till the time they really believed in their theories of their richness.
Rich gas, at higher statuspheres, can only expand.

This is very close to a Marxist scenario
Rich fish can only grow by swallowing small fish until there is no more fish to swallow.

The old economic order changeth and not all the world’s leaders nor world bank economists, nor Madison avenue strategists know what to do about it except to buy time hoping to sabotage each other.

II. 5. Planning Science for a Molten-Down Future.

As visions of economic order seem to change ruthlessly one wonders whether old economic doctrines will be a given a go by and a new value system with its own doctrines would take its space. See my blog “Shiva's Dance and the Stock Market: Creative Destruction.”

The tranquility of Shiva after his cosmic dance is frightening. Things have to change in this economic meltdown and know n economic orders must change.

While an economic meltdown could be hurtling on its unpredictable but deterministic chaotic path I am reminded of another meltdown, a nuclear meltdown. This meltdown appears at the end of the movie (see “Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Love the Bomb”

Dr Strangelove is a paraplegic confined to a wheel chair. A wrong command for exploding a nuclear bomb cannot be prevented. A protective series of nuclear explosions are to follow.
The script at the end of the movie goes like this.
Strangelove: .sir! stands up out of his wheelchair I have a plan. Heh. pauses, realizing that he is standing Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!
Multiple scenes of exploding bombs, dancing to the tune of "We'll Meet Again."

I guess the haunting unforgettable voice of Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again” gives such a nostalgic climax that it is impossible not to rank “Dr. Strangelove” among the best movies to be made that has a strong message.

The movie Dr. Strangelove has an “… apocalyptic theme (which) was about how technology had gone haywire and had dominated humanity.
One may have a modern apocalyptic theme based on how the failure of monetary and trade theories lead to a change of world order.

The crisis of the economic scenario in the recent G20 summit seems to me (happy part could be that I am rarely right) to be very much like the American war-room at the end of Dr. Strangelove when primitive people discuss strategies for the survival of the human race after the nuclear holocaust, while the Russian Ambassador sneaks away to photograph the war room with his spy camera.

This breakdown of economic order can (hopefully not) end apocalyptically with the march of the four horsemen of apocalypse:- violence, pestilence, disease and death.

In another context, T. S. Eliot’s words This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper is the beginning of the novel “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute of people in Australia waiting for their inevitable death after the fallout of a nuclear war (by mistake) in the Northern Hemisphere.

After an economic meltdown the world could also end with a whimper.

II. 6. Quality of Life Ecosystem: Science of Small Things

One of the nice things of an economic meltdown is that it gives more chances for survival to the economically backward.

In other words it gives a chance to those who have followed traditional paths of survival without depending on conspicuous consumption profits gained from getting courtesans and clients and their equivalents in the fashion and haute couture circles. After all, this is what pumps up the eco-motive-force of modern science and technology.

It is not serious as far as the quality of life is concerned.

In the final analysis, one has to recognize that it may be the science of small things that will ensure a quality of life that is driven by common and minimal sharing of natural resources.

It will be sufficient to say that, by its very nature, this approach is very different from the rapid economic meltdown so apparent now in the Indo-China-centric stripping of mother earth’s skin and disemboweling of her guts.

I have given above a “quality of life ecosystem” that is obtained from the “Innovation Ecosystem” scheme given earlier. In this QOL ecosystem scheme there is no tangible economic index used except in the transition from “work” through “socio-economic conditions” and “sense of well being”- The socio-economic link may be avoided in gauging a QOL.

Attempts to quantify a QOL, such as those by the Economists Group, end up with parameters which reflect standard economic success parameters such as those used to calculate GDP. It does not give good insights to a quality of life as we know it.

/See the introduction to The Quality of life
)1993) by Martha Craven Nussbaum and Amartya Kumar Sen)

There is also no quantifiable value given to items such as “work” and “family” and “community” and “culture” and “tradition” and “sense of well being”. From a School of Economics point of view there is no sense in this QOL ecosystem. Conversely, from the QOL eco-system point of view these schools of economics do not have the sense.

Of all the countries only Bhutan seems to be searching for a Gross National Happiness scheme when material and Buddhist spiritual development complement and reinforce each other.

A recent (2009) attempt to get QOL indicators by Department of Environmental Planning School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, shows that it is hopelessly befuddled concluding with a fabblegab jumble of sentences such as
"By their nature QOL measures represent a snapshot in time. It is understood that any measurement data used for predictive purposes would need to be collected over sufficiently long time periods to successfully capture or model the co-evolution of humans with their environment and develop an effective knowledge base.°

The people leaving Anatevka in the last scene of Fiddler on the Roof would sing
What do we leave? Nothing much. Only Anatevka.
… Anatevka, Anatevka. Intimate, obstinate Anatevka, Where I know everyone I meet.
Soon I'll be a stranger in a strange new place, Searching for an old familiar face
… I belong in Anatevka, Tumble-down, work-a-day Anatevka.
Dear little village, little town of mine

The people of Anavtevka know when a home is home since they have lost their home. We should be knowing our home from the way we equilibrate with our life at home.

The Science of Small Things (using Arundhati Roy's turn of phrase) could learn to quantify such crucial QOL things.

That should be our Global Vision

It is at these time that we understand what "honge kaamyaab" really means.

Monday, November 15, 2010

“India as a Global Leader in Science” Part I … and there was Silence in the House of Judgement.

A somewhat neatly brought up document was delivered by Post from a Science Academy of India. Its title was “India as a Global Leader in Science” and was purportedly written by the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India.

What immediately came to my mind was Oscar Wilde’s fifth poem in prose “The House of Judgement”. I guess it has now dropped out of the English syllables of our schools. Skipping many lines the poem goes like this:

And there was silence in the House of Judgment, and the Man came naked before God.
And God said to the Man, 'Thy life hath been evil, and thou hast shown cruelty to those who were in need of succour, and to those who lacked help thou hast been bitter and hard of heart. The poor called to thee and thou didst not hearken, and thine ears were closed to the cry of My afflicted. '
And the Man made answer and said, 'Even so did I.'
And again God said to the Man, 'Thy life hath been evil, … Thou didst build seven altars to the sins I have suffered, … Thine idols were neither of gold nor of silver that endure, but of flesh that dieth. … Thou didst bow thyself to the ground before them, and the thrones of thine idols were set in the sun. … .'
And the Man made answer and said, 'Even so did I.'
And a third time God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.
And God said to the Man, 'Evil hath been thy life, … Thine enemy who spared thee thou didst snare in an ambush, and the friend who walked with thee thou didst sell for a price, and to those who brought thee Love thou didst ever give Lust in thy turn. ...'
And the Man made answer and said, 'Even so did I.'
And God closed the Book of the Life of the Man, and said, 'Surely I will send thee into Hell.’
And the Man cried out, 'Thou canst not. … Because in Hell have I always lived,'
And there was silence in the House of Judgment.
And after a space God spake, and said to the Man, 'Seeing that I may not send thee into Hell, surely I will send thee unto Heaven. Even unto Heaven will I send thee.'
And the Man cried out, 'Thou canst not … .'
And God said to the Man, 'Wherefore can I not send thee unto Heaven, and for what reason?'
'Because never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it,' answered the Man.
And there was silence in the House of Judgment.

I don't know why I think of "Silence in the House of Judgement" when the issue of "India as Global Leader in Science" is raised by the same people who have brought Indian Science to its present state so far.
I suppose it is intuitively natural for a 70-ish person like me.

India can be a Global Leader in Science… There is nothing wrong in this Vision.

In my opinion the vision document of the SAC can be dismissed as an ( incredulously shabby hastily written document. It is there for all to see and comment on anyway.

The science advisory council as a unit ia, at best, like the man in Wilde's poem. Always imagined to have lived in hell (lower levels of science) and thereby have no vision of the higher levels

I just wish that much younger minds wrote this vision document.
There does seem to be a breath of fresh fair flowing in the Indian leadership at younger levels in many areas of visibility. But this is despite the visions of the elder but the visions of the world brought to home by multimedia.

Going by the vast contrast in the technical finesse involved in the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games… we should not be surprised if the silence in the House of Judgment after the Science Vision Document was not one followed by peals of laughter.

Still it requires some courage to bring out such a document even if one may be sure that it will not match public imagination!

As a continuing bare-foot "scientist" of whatever kind, I have written this series of blogs positively. The young will deliver with or (preferably) without the Vision Document.

In the fourth part of this series I venture to make some commitments on the "Science of Small Things" that one could pursue, in my present vision of native science.

I. 1. The Legacy of Indian Science

There is no doubt that among the Political Leaders of Independent India who shaped science policy is Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. There is also no doubt that Nehru’s speeches instilled in us, the children at Independence, the desire to participate in Nation Building. The modern Indian temples were said to be those of science and technology. It is Nehruy who I associate with the setting up of the scientific temper of modern India.

Part of this culture arose from the highly glorified requirement of import substitution of a newly born nation wanting to rank along with the most advanced nations, as judged by the standards of advanced nations.

The Indian scientists were told to deliver on import substitution and introducing modern western science and technology. As a result, we are unashamedly happy to be the first to be second. This is of no use as far as establishing priorities of building an independent-nation-worthy scientific culture is concerned. It only helps in being part of an international fan club of an original generic paper with its attendant benefits of international conferences, usually at exotic locales. The ultimate aim of these conferences is to network within a new jargon that promises a delivery to a better land much to the social benefit of those in other countries that create the jargon. They ultimately play the pied piper. We dance our way with unfamiliar steps to borrowed tunes that don’t resonate with the pulse of our blood and end up wallowing in a shallow hole.

As it turned out, at the end of the import substitution or knowledge importing exercise there is little satisfaction or value addition as another set of newly emerging external standards have to be met and worked on. The scientists, no matter how much contribution they may have made to this culture, end up basically as gold-medalled parasites (see my blog on The Golden Bough, Sciencophansy and the * on a Chemist) of an upper-echeloned society of Tennyson’s lotus eaters (“ … they came unto a land In which it seemed always afternoon … A land where all things always seem’d the same … “) who really do not care much either way.

I. 1. Kumaramangalam Effect.
Once upon a recent time, the young Rangarajan Kumaramangalam as the minister of science and technology in India was faced with the problem of funding Indian science of the government funded kind to perpetual mediocrity. Kumarmangalam knew about science and was training to be a scientist before unforeseen personal tragedies got him into the political service of the country. I think he was impressed by some aspects of Indian science, but not all. He demanded from Indian science and technology institutions that they earn their own bread by generating income from their research in a way that would be useful to their country.

It had a remarkable debilitating effect quite contrary to what RK had hoped for.

I was at the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) when this happened. At once, the very scientists who had risen to the top using a government subsidized research ladder, would use their position to negotiate with industrial companies all over the world. They ended up primarily as members of outsourcing laboratories. This was good for the financial well being of the laboratory for a short while. The lights burning late into the night were not only those of people doing science for science sake. The deeply desired Information Technology (IT) outsourcing culture was in place even in the national laboratories. Like others in the IT industry, scientists conference and too instructions in the nights.
I work 9 to 5 but it starts in the P. M.
And I love the sunrise so I step out in the A. M.

The Physical Chemistry Division that I headed “disgraced” itself by refusing to generate outsourcing funds.

I think this source of “out”-funding lasted for a little while at NCL till the bigger “out” laboratories set up their own research space in India. They also grabbed the more able performers to their own fold and kept them as long as they were useful. The funded generated at NCL from within India dried up as there was no more a need for imitative technology especially since the patenting scenario had changed. NCL was stripped of its better talents.

Nobody took the Physical Chemistry Division Scientists. They remained. They did their own research. If there is to be a moral in the tale, the Physical Chemistry Division Scientists are now “important” members of the remnant NCL scientists in various ways in science.

There was, in the end, little change in the earlier mind sets.

Where is the Indian genius?
There is little indication of the modern, ground-breaking pioneering kind of thinking that India should pursue which is in keeping with the genius of the Indian people.

How many of us modern alienated Indian Scientists will be able to say “in a cross my heart and hope to die” sense that the science and the learning we are now doing has any direct connection to the demands of our indigenousness.

The answer we have is that science has no boundaries. True, I suppose.

If I look at the picture from (right below) the Hadron Collider without knowing what it is all about and saying that it looks like a bundle of strings unraveling in their own patterned way, will it help me to understand some pressing but less expensive global or local shortfalls or tragedies?

Of course, it won’t. Nor is it expected to do so.

On the other hand will the cover page (above left, condensed for convenience) of the Science Vision Document of the Science Advisory Council (SVDSAC) give any indication of how far Indian Science is from being a Global Leader in Science? One does not know what was the purpose of the cover unless one takes the cartoon´seriously). The credit for the gene sequence on the cover goes to one Dr. Anuranjan Anand. I could not get access to Dr. Anand’s papers though I found that the google citation for Dr. Ananad’s work rarely went beyond 8-10. The gene sequence itself ---- another string --- has not been made to look remotely as beautiful as that from the hadron collider.

The SAC of the PM does not seem to have a clear idea of what constitutes the kind of research that would form part of their vision. They could have used cover pictures for the purpose.

They were happy to have missed the opportunity of committing themselves to an example.

The Science Vision Document of the Science Advisory Council (SVDSAC) says “it is virtually impossible to exactly predict how today’s basic research will eventually improve our quality of life or to guess the new technologies or markets that may emerge” although they assert in an equally glib and robustly vague manner that the “ … results of basic research are prerequisites for many future technological advances and societal benefits.

I. 2. Indian Internal Science Standard

It is clear from the SVDSAC that we do not have an internal standard for science… something like an ISS (Indian Science Standard) which says specifically that such and such science would have important consequences for such and such problems.

Our highest achievable standard for Science is recognition from the Royal Society of London founded in 1660 and which now acts as the only Academy of Sciences for the United Kingdom and as scientific advisor to the government besides funding research fellowship and more importantly funding scientific start-up companies. A book on The History of the Institution, Design, and progress, of the Royal society of London has been written by Thomas Sprat who Sprat had helped to found the Royal Society. The society was stated at that time to be For the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy experiments of the recoiling of guns; method for making a history of the weather; a proposal for making wine; an apparatus to the history of the common practices of dying; and many more interesting topics.

Thomas Sprat would write.- It is evident, from the universal Testimony of History, that all Learning and Civility were deriv’d from the Eastern parts of the World. He, of course, identified the easterners with Assyrians and Chaldeans and Egyptians. At that time Europeans were not yet familiar with the ancient Indian texts, so we excuse Thomas Sprat (?).

Since that time things have changed slightly as we all must know.

We follow the Royal Society now.

Indeed, we have done better than that. We have five or six national academies that follow the style of the Royal Society. The National Academy of Sciences (India) (1930), The Indian Academy of Sciences (1934), The Indian National Academy of Science (1935), The National Academy of Medical Sciences (1960?), The Indian National Academy of Engineering (1987), The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (2004?).

With so many academies, good coherent advice for the Prime Minister could not be expected, I suppose, so that a different Science Advisory Council had to be formed.

In the Indian context, the FRS is very meaningful; An FRS on an Indian scientist opens up avenues for collaboration in the shape of supplies of expensive equipments by Britain and opportunities for lavish entertainment at Government expense especially of Directors of the Royal Institution of Great Britain; there is always the hope that an FRS would follow for the Indian host, who is always kept guessing whether the hosting has been sufficient.

If I was the Director of the Royal Institute and I was aware that I was being feted and hosted and dined and wined and toured for extracting an FRS, I may have been tempted to exploit this opportunity as many concessions as possible for my Royal mother’s land from the willing hosts before I nominated them for the FRS.

The British colonial rulers had little interest in improving the Royal Society's learning from Eastern knowledge of the Indian kind. Instead they unleashed Macaulay's Minutes of Indian Education.

According to Angus Maddison’s book on The Economic and Social Impact of Colonial Rule in India first published in 1971 an reprinted in 2006, “… one of the most significant things the British did to Westernize India …” was the impact of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay's 1835 Minute on Education. Macaulay almost begins this Minute with “ … It is argued, or rather taken for granted, that by literature the Parliament can have meant only Arabic and Sanscrit literature; that they never would have given the honourable appellation of "a learned native" to a native who was familiar with the poetry of Milton, the metaphysics of Locke, and the physics of Newton; but that they meant to designate by that name only such persons as might have studied in the sacred books of the Hindoos all the uses of cusa-grass, and all the mysteries of absorption into the Deity.

Maddison would write that “ ... Macaulay was strongly opposed to orientalism and would write “I believe that the present system tends, not to accelerate the progress of truth, but to delay the natural death of expiring errors. We are a Board for wasting public money, for printing books which are less value than the paper on which they are printed was while it was blank; for giving artificial encouragement to absurd history, absurd metaphysics, absurd physics, absurd theology ... I have no knowledge of either Sanskrit orArabic ... But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value ... Who could denythat a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia ... all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools in England.

Macaulay would go on to add “…We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population

Angus Maddison then adds (it does not require much to add this) “The education system which developed was a very pale reflection of that in the UK. Three universities were set up in 1857 in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, … . Higher education was carried out in affiliated colleges which gave a two-year B.A. course with heavy emphasis on rote learning and examinations. They did little to promote analytic capacity or independent thinking and produced a group of graduates with a half-baked knowledge of English, but sufficiently Westernized to be alienated from their own culture

How damning it must be for a society to have to depend on an alienated educated upper class!

I. 3. The Poor shall inherit the Earth.

There used to be a time when science was meant for addressing itself to the needs of the society, by which we understood it meant the needs of the poorer or deprived sections. The Royal Society of London itself was set up during depressing times of the fire and the plague. To its credit it must be said that London prospered after that and the plague was eliminated. The objectives of the society focused mainly on experimental work; one of its first major problems was to ( determine the longitude at sea. Because of their concern with navigation and time they studied magnetism for the ship’s compass and the pendulum clock. All this made the Royal Society prestigious enough to attract foreign members, who proudly write the FRS against their name.

We somehow require being poor in order to extract an image of a poor hard-working scientist that deserves every piece of dole.

Sarojini Naidu—joked once “To keep Mahatma Gandhi poor, we have to destroy treasures. His poverty is very costly.

Instead of using our science to serve the cause of the deprived section by finding new advantages from being first (this is crucial) with our discoveries, we stress on how deprived we are as scientists. It seems to be important that we remain poor to explain our status as poor scientists.

This is our fatal flaw that conditions the science we do.

We love to flaunt our status of a third world nation, implying thereby a less than first world (whatever that means) standard in all things, intellectual or lifestyle. We happily pride ourselves when elected to a Third World Academy of Sciences. This academy is a consequence of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) at Trieste, Italy, started by the Pakistani Nobel Laureate, Abdus Salam after he “… suffered the tragic dilemma of having to make the choice between physics or Pakistan. … Fired by his own unhappiness at having had to leave his country, he was determined to find a way of making it possible for those like him to continue working for their own communities while still having opportunities to remain first-rate scientists. It was thus in 1960 that he conceived the idea of setting up an International Centre for Theoretical Physics with funds from the international community. … Scientists from developed and developing countries attending ICTP activities learn from one another in a stimulating environment that remains responsive to the needs of world-class scientists without neglecting the needs of researchers, particularly young researchers from the developing world, to remain at the forefront of their fields."

Given a well laid out path people find their way to the top especially if they are sufficiently contrasted as in the monetarily poor versus rich societies. Usually it is the poor who would try to emulate the rich. It requires a Gandhi or a Buddha to “live” a poor life by giving up their riches. It’s a mystery to me to see the Indian poor man’s hero, Ambedkar, to be always dressed in Western attire with suit and tie while Gandhi and Buddha would be bare-bodied.

There is a charm and advantage of being exclusively poor among a rich crowd.

An awareness of the society that one has made one’s mark of whatever kind despite being very poor gives one a notch or more up in one’s career graph. This is especially so when one is being judged or handpicked by a member of a well-established ruling upper class family.

Manmohan Singh has little political credentials to be a Prime Minister had he not been handpicked, although we would not know whether he was handpicked by the World Bank or by the head of the Congress family.

Manmohan Singh’s biography on the net reads like this. Manmohan Singh was born into a family of modest means in the village of Gah in Pakistan. For the first 12 years of his life he lived there, a village which had no electricity, no school, no hospital, no piped drinking water. He walked for miles every day to school and studied at night in the dim light of a kerosene lamp. When asked once why he had poor eyesight he confessed that it was because he had spent hours reading books in that dim light. He always stood first and was a brilliant student.

One of the hugely laurelled Indian Scientist, R. A. Mashelkar, has this said about himself on the net. “It was a difficult journey indeed. I was born in a village called Mashel in Goa. My father died when I was six and my mother had to migrate to Bombay in search of a job. She was not literate and had to struggle very hard to make both ends meet. I went barefoot until the age of 12, and two meals a day was a great challenge. I studied under street lights, making use of the cement benches at Janjira Motor Works around Chowpatty in Mumbai. I would study up to 2 am, at the Central Railway station as the platform would be quiet after the last train for Gujarat left at 10 pm. Basically, wherever I could find place I would study. Life was so difficult that standing first in class became a necessity which continued throughout my career.

Mashelkar’s mother was a very quiet, very refined and very dignified person, being a true product of her inherited culture. Like most poor mothers in India or elsewhere in the world.

I think that times have changed.

To come first in the class is good. Especially if you are burning the midnight oil and have little else as source of distraction. It shows that you may understand some instructions faster than the others especially when given in writing and when there is light to read.

It does not show that one can improvise in the absence of written instructions or when one is in the dark about possible directions to take.

I also think that this is no longer the time to continue with the Macaulay-like system which produce “… fit vehicles for conveyingknowledge to the great mass of the population” without the ability “… to promote analytic capacity or independent thinking and… sufficiently Westernized to be alienated from their own culture.

Technologies change fast. This is most true especially for technologies we would like to borrow.

If India is to emerge as a world leader in science there has to be a paradigm shift that originates from Indian and is original. We have to realize that we don’t know how to be original.

By putting to rote text-books for the purposes of examinations and a secure job we lose considerable vision and we lose our freedom.

To become a global leader we require a little more than our deemed poverty.