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Constraints on Science and Peace

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  • arkitect95
    Prof. VK Tripathi is a professor of physics at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi. He is sharing his experience at International Physics
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 11, 2003
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      Prof. VK Tripathi is a professor of physics at Indian Institute of
      Technology (IIT), New Delhi. He is sharing his experience at
      International Physics Conference in Taiwan. Here is his vies about
      science and peace. You can directly contact him on
      vkt@... or send your comments on arkitectindia

      For peace


      For the last four months I have been thinking of approaching
      scientists on the issue of peace. However, more I thought of it, my
      realization of constraints of science became deeper. I wish to share
      some thoughts on this and seek enlightenment from you.
      With affection

      Constraints on Science and Peace


      Scientists are blessed with objectivity. They can help build a
      peaceful world. Several scientists from USA and other countries,
      indeed, have raised their voice against wars, including the recent
      Iraq war. However, there are severe constraints on science and one
      wonders whether it is possible for scientists to be effective in
      averting catastrophy of wars in future.

      Science has two elements. One, an unquenching quest for unraveling
      mystries of nature and understanding underlying fundamental laws.
      Second, the utility of science for society. Every scientist has an
      element of the former, however, new and revolutionary ideas come as a
      spark only once in a while and only to a few. Other scientists engage
      themselves in understanding their consequences on various processes
      and in developing useful devices and machines, i.e., they are driven
      by element two.

      Both elements require an infrastructure and support, for the
      sustenance of the scientists as well as for research. These bring
      science under the patronage of State and Industry and severely
      curtails the freedom of scientists. Only the fundamental science
      (comprising a very tiny percentage of the entire scientific effort)
      is without a political agenda. All other science and technology
      follows the goals set by the political power and industry.

      Look at the Space Program. Soviet Union took an early lead in it. It
      sent Yuri Gagarin in space who completed on earth revolution in one
      and half hours and returned. The goal, set by the State, was not to
      explore the space but to develop capabilities for delivering nuclear
      weapons. Around that time US also launched its space program. Its
      goals were also set by the State and were to develop prompt nuclear
      delivery capabilities and communication capabilities to control
      information and media. The goal of sending man to moon was probably
      for public consumption to show that science can grow faster in
      capitalist system than in a communist system. Scientists had no role
      in setting goals of science in either of the two systems, nor the
      goals were set by human welfare at heart.

      At the moment USA is the center of scientific research. Brilliant
      students from all over the world go there for higher studies and
      research. They constitute nearly 50% of graduate student population in
      US universities. The academic environment there is free from prejudice
      of nationality, religion or race and the faculty appointments, in
      private as well as public universities, are mostly based on academic
      considerations rather than political interference. However, research
      is strongly influenced by the state. A large fraction of research
      funding comes from government agencies like National Science
      Foundation, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, NASA etc. It
      also comes from industry. Teachers and researchers have no role in
      deciding research priorities. A very substantial portion of research
      money goes for defense research either directly through defense
      department or indirectly through space and other departments. Since
      there is tremendous pressure on university teachers to bring research
      grants, as their tenure, promotion and raise in salary depend on it,
      many of them, specially scientists, end up working on projects that
      have some linkage with defense. This dependence curtails their
      freedom to oppose war, how so ever unjust it may be. Similarly
      support from industry inhibits researchers from opposing industrial
      policies that may be against third world countries or environment.
      There exists strong political bias among high ups in funding
      agencies. During cold war years, anti-USSR hype was visible all
      around. During Reagan's Star War program, a hallow was created around
      it. Such things put pressure on fund seekers.

      Freeing scientific research in universities from such political
      pressure is necessary for creativity and freedom of scientists.
      Scientists must have a say in science policy and they must uphold
      human responsibility of science. Defense policy, in particular, must
      be based on consensus, in consonance with the principle of national
      sovereignty and freedom of all nations, and scientists must have a
      say in it. It will be better if defense related research is confined
      to defense laboratories. Right now major defense research in fact is
      conducted at big national laboratories yet university scientists play
      a very significant role in it, far bigger than the fraction of money
      diverted to them.

      Science in India

      In developing countries like India, research is not a major activity
      in most universities, hence there is not that much competition for
      research funding. Political ideologies of the researchers usually do
      not come in the way of gaining small projects. Big projects of course
      require political contacts. Defense research in India is largely
      carried at defense laboratories run by Defense Research and
      Development Organization (DRDO). DRDO also funds extramural research
      (the one carried out at universities, IITs, etc) but its contribution
      in 1997-98 was only 3.5% to the total extramural research of the
      country of Rs. 218 crore.

      Departments of Science and Technology (24%), Electronics (22%), and
      Biotechnology (11%), and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (9%)
      had much bigger shares.

      Science and education in developing nations, however, suffer from
      political interference in appointments, promotions and
      administration. In recent years communal indoctrination of curricula
      has also emerged as a serious problem. Scientists working in
      universities must resist these tendencies and evolve a people-centric
      science policy. A major problem for these nations is to attract
      educated and experienced scientists from abroad to their homeland.
      They cannot provide them salaries, research facilities and living
      standards that they enjoy in developed nations. However, with growing
      aggressiveness of political leadership in powerful nations, many of
      them may wish to return. Further, after the age of forty, life abroad
      is not that charming as work becomes monotonous and job continuity
      becomes uncertain. If home countries can offer them creative and
      tenured jobs, many of them would return. Developing countries
      have considerable scope to broaden their educational, technological
      and research base, not as an appendage of big powers but as self
      reliant nations. They can bring agriculture and small scale industry
      at the center stage of research and development. Most artisans and
      technicians learn technical skills through apprenticeship, by working
      with ustaads. They lack in formal education and knowledge of
      scientific principles. Scientists can help educate and uplift these

      Science oriented towards the masses seems to have the potential to
      resist its misuse by the state and to usher an era of peace and
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