The Status of Science

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Recently, when I met a young student at a social event, like every nosy Indian, I asked “So what are you doing these days?” The answer pleasantly surprised me. “I am pursuing my graduation in physics and want to get into research after I finish my master’s.” Surprise, not for the fact that he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. Many youngsters know that these days. But because he is so interested in something that is not management or finance, which are the only fields that are super popular today. Adopting a career in the pure sciences not only takes a lot of courage, but also a lot of determination to go through life without some of the benefits that other fields offer. “I have spent my entire career in teaching, and only I know how I have managed to run my life and family for all these years. When my children expressed the desire to opt for fields that are better paying and less demanding, I did not object. Even though I love my subject and my children too had the liking, ability and aptitude to study science and get into research afterwards, they just did want to,” says Prof Dr M T Pandya, who teaches microbiology at Jai Hind College in Mumbai.
Dr Pandya’s opinion is voiced by youngsters across the country. “I have the aptitude for science, but I just don’t have the patience to work in a laboratory doing research, for which the credit will be claimed by the professor or guide. I’d rather opt for engineering, which does not take me too far away from the subject but gives me monetary results much faster,” says Deep Mehta, a class 12 science student. Deep’s commerce counterpart, Archit Pathak, was clear when he made the choice. “My parents were very keen I take up either physics or mathematics and had already planned to send be abroad for a master’s programme, followed by doctoral studies. I just didn’t want to spend my life under such pressure. I literally had to sit them down and explain that I am not up for such hard work, I want an easier life and hence I am opting for a career in commerce. I knew they would throw a fi t so I got my grandparents to moderate the discussion,” he says. All was well that ended well, for aft er his Bachelor’s in Management Studies (BMS) he got placed from campus itself at `2.5 lakh pa. He is happy, and wants to opt for an MBA aft er a couple of years. In his own words, “My life is set!” Well known scientist Dr Jayant Narlikar opines, “Today students by default opts for engineering, medicine or commerce, since that’s where they think the best careers lie. Th is is in such stark contrast to the scenario in the 1950s and 60s when India’s science laboratories, departments and universities were getting established.”
Th e direct effect of this present trend, many scientists and professors feel, will be felt a few years, may be even a decade later. Th e fall in the number of students opting for science at the bachelor’s level will create a void when it comes to personnel of high scientific calibre. This is already being felt in some cases, as there is a shortage of talented teachers for the subjects. The reason for students shying away may be more deep rooted than that. Human nature often demands instant gratification. Of course, it can also be blamed on out capitalist impulses. Science, and especially research, is hardly that field. In fact, it is a long shot. And like everything else that doesn’t pay immediate and measurable benefits, science too is quickly dismissed. In such a situation we can only hope that pure science finds an appropriate role.

The Earliest Scientists
Many scientists contributed to the world of science, but great Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle are considered to be the foremost. “No one in the history of civilisation has shaped our understanding of science more than Aristotle, who exerted a profound and pervasive influence for more than two thousand years,” said scientist and author Gary B Ferngren. Plato’s dialogues have been used to teach a range of subjects, including philosophy, logic, ethics, rhetoric and mathematics. Aristotle’s views on the physical sciences profoundly shaped medieval scholarship and zoological sciences; some of his observations were confi rmed to be accurate only in the 19th century.

Pure and applied sciences
Pure science: Pure science is the exact science of the development of scientific theories. The research done to postulate such theories is, at times, done without consideration of its application. Its counterpart is applied science. Pure science is sometimes used to refer specifically to physics and pure mathematics, but chemistry and biology may also be considered as examples. Science can come from many different forms and measures; but still, everything we see around depends on science. Pure science has many meanings of ingeniousness and wonder, which can leave one’s mind astounded at the things that science can do. Applied science: Applied science is the science of applying knowledge from one or more natural scientific fields to practical problems. Many applied sciences can be considered forms of engineering. Applied science is important for technology development. Its use in industrial settings is usually referred to as research and development.

Volume 1 Issue 4

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