Indian science needs irreverence

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For India to successfully address local and global challenges and nurture future science leaders, Indian scientists must embrace a spirit of irreverence, says R. A. Mashelkar, president of the Global Research Alliance National Chemical Laboratory.

Indian culture, where "the words of the elders are the ultimate truth", condemns the irreverence inspired by the constant questioning that is essential in science, says Mashelkar. The country’s education system, which is textbook-centred rather than student-centred, compounds this attitude, as does heavy bureaucracy, he adds.

The result is that, even if an institute wants to support ‘audacious’ ideas, finding fundable proposals is difficult, says Mashelkar.

But things are starting to change. India’s higher education system is rapidly expanding, with thirty new universities and five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research that will help to create a new culture of innovation through interactive learning methods and new evaluation systems.

Foreign companies are setting up research centres at a rapid pace, and filling them with many Indian returnees from abroad who bring innovation and new work perspectives to the table.

The recent launch of Tata Nano — the world’s least expensive car — shows that a new spirit of adventurism is being embraced by some Indian companies.

"Hopefully, this spirit will rub off onto other enterprises and institutions," says Mashelkar.