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How to sell science to India

It is heartening to see the efforts of a great economist and a statesman such as Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh towards building the Indian population's interest in science (see  Commitment to science stressed by Indian PM). But there aren't enough scientific entrepreneurs to sell the field to our population, which still regards science as a 'holy shrine' that only the blessed can enter.

And of course the question arises: what are the financial incentives for a scientific job in India? India's priority remains economic development, but without a mature research and development sector, how long can the service sector survive alone? How long can we depend on foreign money coming in on a wave of outsourcing?

I am not denying the fact that the scenario is changing. Science is definitely in fashion and becoming more accessible to laypeople in India, but the change is happening far too slowly. We need more scientific entrepreneurs to sell science in a way that makes India realise the equal importance of a highly skilled and technically sound research and development sector along with the services sector.

The example of Lithuania, comes to mind. Although it is a small country, the mainstay of its economy is education and research and development (see http://msi.lms.lt/5FP/RTD/RTD_system.html).

With globalisation spreading, India also needs a clearer national identity. As a nation, we need to make a conscious effort to develop a scientific infrastructure. There has to be a financial incentive for investing in science, and venture capitalists must be given the motivation to set up more knowledge-based businesses (and not just IT or biotech companies).

The government is not solely to blame. A lot has to come from the people. It will be a challenge, but we have to revolutionise our education sector to see benefits from it.

I do not want to sound like a complete pessimist, because there have been marked positive changes in the public attitude towards science but most people are still in the dark — sad but true!

Many Europeans, including high-profile scientists, still have a distorted picture of India as a country of snake charmers. We need to speed up our development to change this stereotype. It will take time and a sound strategy for managing our intellectual wealth. It is high time something is done about it.