India is a land of ‘bad’ biologists because they are ‘bad’ in chemistry to begin with. So said India’s top scientist CNR Rao, (a chemist obviously, and Linus Pauling professor) in a fascinating talk he gave to school students at a special session convened for them at the TWASmeet here on Thursday (21 October). Rao still retains his teaching skills (he started his career teaching at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur).
Let me clarify here that Rao was not wearing his official hat as the chair of the scientific advisory council to India’s PM (or the PM would have been veeeeeery angry with Indian biologists). In fact, it was nice that he and another top Indian scientist Rajgopala Chidamabaram (who is also the principal scientific advisor to the Indian cabinet) supported this session for school kids on the joys of learning science. A thumbs up from me for their gesture, given the difficulties countries are facing in attracting students to science.
Rao was making the larger point of the need for sound base in chemistry, which often interfaces with other scientific disciplines. Figuring out the atom or the gene, for example, involved a Noble chemist.
The remark about biologists could have been in jest, but then, as a former biology student at the university, you know where my sympathies will lie. I do not expect Indian biologists to stand up for themselves on this double barrel charge – bad in both biology and chemistry. Indeed I expect most Indian scientists to denounce my blog, instead, as irresponsible journalism.
But then, is it necessary to attract school kids to science by denouncing Indian biologists, even if in jest?
Also, the world over, when people talk of progress in Indian science, no one fails to mention our contribution to cheap vaccines and drugs. Surely the genetically engineered hepatitis B vaccine had a hand of a biologist?
T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net