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Good leadership and long-term strategy, not financial investment, will revive India’s flagging strength in scientific research, argues chemistry professor Gautam R. Desiraju in Nature.
Raising the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) invested in science from 0.9 to 2 per cent, announced by the country’s prime minister, "is a haphazard plan, with no hint of new strategies", says Desiraju. More money is not the answer.
What is needed, he argues, is a change in the country’s cultural and social problems. Indian scientists and researchers do not question or dissent, qualities that are essential for science. As a result research may be competent, but it does not inspire or excite. Connected to that is the unquestioning acceptance that age equals wisdom, which reinforces the positions of older scientists and discourages change.
Corruption in various forms is a problem too, writes Desiraju. It means that those who are well connected are favoured for academic positions, for example. Indian universities must start to appoint their own vice-chancellors "rather than suffer the choices made by conclaves of old men in New Delhi", he says.
India needs to find its own solutions to its problems, without resorting to comparisons with China. The true measure of a country’s scientific strength is not the number of articles published in prestigious journals, but the number of competent teachers and lively students.
Desiraju suggests that policymakers should provide funding to a large number of small projects to create "a critical density of ideas and a feeling of mass participation and enthusiasm"; direct substantial funding to specific projects in energy, water and health, which could translate to country-wide benefits; and discourage younger scientists from chasing prizes at the expense of doing good science.
The country needs to plan with long-term measures, he says, such as removing caste-based quotas in research and improving teaching institutions and laboratories.