How politics of pseudoscience threatens India's scientific literacy
Posted: Jun 08, 2018
Current Affairs News: Should the Indian media pay as much attention as it does to our politicians’ pseudoscientific claims? The Print had posed this question to me recently – making an apparent reference to the debate between those who say we should simply focus on ‘good science’ and reinforce its traits and those who believe ‘bad science’ is an opportunity for journalists to uncover deeper issues.
For example, when junior education minister Satyapal Singh said, "Darwin’s theory is scientifically wrong" or when Uttarakhand chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said, "Astrology is the biggest science. It is in fact above science. We should promote it."
It’s no secret that some Indian ministers have been trying to rewrite Indian scientific history, and such claims are part of that story.
Science communicators and journalists should definitely continue to focus on these stories, but perhaps with a more investigative narrative? – shifting the focus from the politician to the problem. We can use these sensational instances as opportunities to tackle more systemic problems, offering context and analysis, and reach the people with critical insights.
For example, Satyapal Singh seems to be missing the essence of the scientific method – and what about the story of evolution is scientific.
Science is a type of knowledge system concerned with the observation of phenomena through controlled and repeatable experiments. Scientific knowledge is not a fixed or static body of work. Instead, it’s a process and, like all processes, it evolves. New fields emerge with conceptual shifts in these processes.
If Singh had understood this as well as how evolution itself is evolving as more evidence comes to the fore (e.g., the recent spate of articles questioning parts of the out of Africa theory), his statement would perhaps be different.
Curiously enough, he has an MPhil in chemistry. So either Singh was and is a bad student of science, or his intentions behind these statements are political.
When Pokhriyal says, "Astrology is the biggest science. It is in fact above science. We should promote it," there again seems to be a misunderstanding about what science is, what it stands for, and betrays an inability to distinguish science from pseudoscience.
Pseudoscience is a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on the scientific method. Astrology is considered a pseudoscience because, when subjected to the processes of science, researchers have found no evidence connecting astronomical phenomena with human personalities or events. So if someone would like to establish astrology as a way of knowing, they’d have to figure out how. And it doesn’t happen simply by calling astrology a science.
Like Singh, Pokhriyal is well-educated, so here again the problem seems to be more than about breaking a misconception of what science is.
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