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Shiva the destroyer

Today’s Mint carries the story of the Indian-American Scientist-Entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai being fired from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for writing a report (along with a colleague, Deepak Sardana) which criticises the leadership. I mentioned earlier that one of the ills affecting our research institutes is the excessive control exercised by a few people. I do not know what Ayyadurai and Sardana wrote in the 7th chapter of their report, but clearly the leadership has decided that if they could not control the production of the report, they should punish those who wrote it.

There is a regulation which says that employees of the Indian government cannot publicly criticise decisions taken by the government. This is of course completely counterproductive, since those who can see the system from the inside are often aware of the real issues and problems which need to be criticised. This regulation also cuts deeply into freedom of speech and hence into freedom of thought, the most important quality that any academic environment must provide.

CSIR is supposed to be a bridge between scientific research in India and its industrial application. Yet they earned only Rs. 368 million from patents, while Rs. 2.3 billion were spent filing those patents. This of course does not include the money spent as grants, or funding, for the research that went into those patents, nor the infrastructure and salaries.

The present Director-General of CSIR decided to take umbrage to the report by Shiva Ayyadurai and Deepak Sardana, and instead of taking steps to attack the problems that face the organisation and its labs, chose to shoot the messengers. Ayyadurai was fired, and while the newspaper report does not mention what steps were taken against Sardana, he is not sleeping on a bed of roses either — he said that he wished CSIR never happened. And so the sad tale of our research institutes continues, ruled by mediocrity, dictatorial and whimsical leadership, and failure to solve actual problems.

Update: Lots of apologies for CSIR and ad hominem attacks on Ayyadurai (all anonymous) in the comments section of this blog. It is rather bizarre that even those who are sucking up prefer to remain anonymous.

  1. stupid
    November 4, 2009 at 8:59 am

    this is a completely falsified story. if you guys do not know the reality, then please do not publish half baked stuff in the garb of investigative journalism.

  2. Hutom
    November 4, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    If you know the reality, perhaps you can enlighten us. I would be interested to know which part is completely falsified. Are the quotes from the different people completely false? Was there a report on CSIR-Tech? Did it contain a strong criticism of the leadership of CSIR? Was Shiva Ayyadurai told to leave? Did Prof. Bhargava write to the PMO? Are the monetary figures on patents (of the last 10 years) false?

    I do know that the leadership of various scientific institutions (and institutes) in India leave a lot to be desired, and the story rings true, at least in parts. So I would be quite interested to know which parts are true and which parts are false. If you know, please provide some details.

  3. dev anand
    November 5, 2009 at 6:17 am

    I question his credibility as a a ascientist. He does not have a single peer reviewed publication to his credit. All he has is a bunch of conference papers

    Says to be a faculty at MIT, but could not find any information on that

  4. Hutom
    November 5, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    The report doesn’t say anywhere that he was a faculy at MIT. He has a PhD from there. Clearly he was hired to set up this CSIR-Tech, which is meant to help scientists become entrepreneurs or at least help Indian science reach the entrepreneurs. Ayyadurai does not seem to be short of credibility for that job.

  5. slumdogscientist
    November 7, 2009 at 4:49 am

    The above report says:
    “The sad tale of our research institutes continues, ruled by mediocrity, dictatorial and whimsical leadership, and failure to solve actual problems”

    Many times the scientists in CSIR were played the role of ‘Football” by the authorities and seniors. The so called seniors often forget they are ‘servant’ for the government. There is no difference between small servant or big servant as long as he/she is servant. The moto of a scientist should be how to help public and bring ‘India to forefront in global science’ and take science to heart and enjoy the fullest of its thrils, facination, discovery, invention, making public life much easier. While every scientist in India should be a champion on his/her domain, they all should work towards the success of organization like a team, and inter personal differences should be given low key as long as the goal of achieving in science for the benefit of country is progressing. Often the scientists were hired to ‘fill the gap’ through ‘red carpet’ and ‘kicked through back doors’ when he or she failed to ‘satisfy’ the seniors in terms of ‘providing publications, mega funds, personal benefits, un accountable amount of gifts, supporting corruption, not respecting networks of like minded (bad taste) colleagues, not part of internal politics, failed to recoginze the top and god fathers of seniors, or retired ‘DADA of indian science’ etc., The best time for a scientist in his life time is between 40-50 years provided he already enjoyed his other two phases of career like honeymoon period , adaption period, say for example 1-2 years each. During this period he should be properly guided by head of the organization to enlighten the roles, opportunities, encouragement and support. It is not happening, one fine morning you will be reporting to some one, other day you will report to some one, some time no one cares, some time they care ‘too much’ about your day today activities. If a scientist join any organization below 30 years of age (say Sc B/C) he is supposed to grow with the organization every 3-4 years depending on his qualification, attitude, performance, initiatives, novelty, research publications, recognitions, communication, teaching, learning skills etc., not just ‘boot licking’ or favoring the seniors. By the time he reaches 40+ after spending one decade, he or she should be given administrative power to guide new generation of scientist for next 10 years. By the time he reaches 50 (with 10 more years to serve) he should lead the group of teams and become example for others to follow. At age of 58 he should plan his post-retirement days and leave the office responsibilities to the juniors on the path. In indian science / politics, the seniors never retire.. whether 62, 64, 70 they are still in the ‘cloud’ of influence where is the opportunities for the youngsters? suddenly one fine morning some ‘guy will apperar from MIT/Harvard/Cambridge’ and start preaching the so called ‘old timers’ who spend rest of their life as ‘servents’ for the government. India was ruled by 100+ people from west because of lack of unity among ‘old timers’ and it is still continues.. in Indian science. Until unless the scientist feel and realize they are being exploited by the seniors or ‘foreign invation’ it is impossible to improve indian science. See the status of Indian govenment funding for science. Ten percent of ‘un-qualified and non-competitive and ‘blessed’ scientists take the kitty while 90% deserving scientists struggle for survival. Under RTI Rule if some one (could be any citizen of India) can ask government to provide the funding history for last 10 – 20 years with complete details and credentials of scientists it will expose the system. Where to ask? it should be Network projects of CSIR (easy money for blessed scientists in the system) where crores and crores were given as ‘gift’ for ‘followers’ other place to check is DBT, DST even DRDO. (I was informed some colleges receives worth crores of funding from DRDO, DBT and CSIR through proper-channel (brother, uncles, god-fathers employed in funding agencies!) . In equipments 50% shelled out as ‘gifts’ and millions of worth highly sophesticated equippments from ‘abroad’ purchashed through ‘EASY money of network projects’ become ‘e-waste’ equippments remains un-opened or trashed for several reasons across the country. Accontant general, ‘honest autitors’ should take a note. Even autitors every years were ‘forcibly bribed’ to keep ‘calm’ which is witnessed every year across the country. What public can do? except supporting though providing more funds to government through Taxes? The system can change only if the scientist should start respecting themselves and avoid getting carried by witnessing the ‘victims’ of science on above facts. If you don’t do anything it is still fine because you saved some one’s especially poor man’s tax money.. if you try doing good science with minimum money it would certainly help Indians and basically India. Being a scientist and exploit the system for personal benefit in the name ‘scientific managers’ it is really a Crime! and you should be really ashamed of that, and the consequence is ‘sleepless nights after official retirement’.. the choice is yours.. Shiva’s report is real, ofcourse in draft level, it would require atleast ten years of investigation by multiple departments across all scientific department not just CSIR. Let us start the better beginning from 1 january 2010 from this point forward.. Hope still RTI is working and it would certainly improve the performance of scientists and indian science through proper opportunity to deserving indian scientist. This would also help to build ‘home made nobel prize winners’.. every one should be like Sachin Tandulkar in science but still work for the team india without ‘match fixing’.. Long live India and Long live indian science.

  6. Hutom
    November 8, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Slumdog: The more such examples come to light, the better. It’s doubtful if Shiva’s case or their report will make anyone take any positive action, but if more cases of nepotism (including academic nepotism — pushing one’s students and sycophants) become public, perhaps there will be more questions asked by the public.

  7. An Ex
    December 2, 2009 at 4:45 am

    I know Shiva in person. I worked for him. He is a paranoid. Nobody can work with him and he comes up with crazy rules. He is rightly to be sacked.

  8. slumdogscientist
    December 13, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Recently I received this document as an email attachment,
    Since time is very limited, you are free to circulate this document to a competent “Scientist or Research Professor” of Indian origin with atleast 10 years of experience in India Research Laboratory environment or
    academic institution / College / University (not necessarily, IISER, NICER, IISc, IITs) since it should not be just thoughts of few previlaged scientists / professors, to share his thoughts to improve the quality of this document. Since it could become a decision making document by Government of India, it is a very serious matter, should not reflect the idea of ‘few professonals’ who were well placed and encouraged to write such document to make their mentors life easier. As a scientist I strongly believe there should be sufficient time to put thoughts through brainstroming with periodic meetings to evolve such
    ‘Vision’ document.

    Again Indian science is ‘ruled by few followers of Big Brothers’.

    We welcome suggestions and constructive criticism concerning this draft and
    further input as to how it might be improved. Please communicate these to
    sced@insa.nic.in on or before December 31, 2009, with “INSA Vision Document” as
    the subject line.

    Towards A Vision Document for Indian Science

    Authors of this draft:
    Manindra Agrawal, IIT, Kanpur; Sudarshan Ananth, IISER, Pune; Arvind, IISER,
    Mohali; Vineeta Bal, NII, New Delhi; V. Balaji, Chennai Mathematical Institute,
    Chennai; Supriya Bezbaruah, Science Journalist, New Delhi; Renee Borges, IISc,
    Bangalore; Charusita Chakravarty, IIT, New Delhi; V. Chandrasekhar, IIT, Kanpur;
    K.N. Ganeshaiah, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore; Rajesh Gokhale,
    Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi; Ullas Karanth, Wildlife
    Conservation Society, Bangalore; Satyajit Mayor, NCBS, Bangalore; Gautam Menon,
    The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai; Sunil Mukhi, TIFR, Mumbai;
    Satyajit Rath, NII, New Delhi; Srikanth Sastry, JNCASR, Bangalore; L.S.
    Shashidhara, IISER, Pune; G.V. Shivashankar, NCBS, Bangalore; T. S. Sridhar, St
    John’s Medical College, Bangalore; Musti J. Swamy, Hyderabad Central University,
    Hyderabad; Usha Vijayraghavan, IISc, Bangalore

    The vitality of a scientific community springs from many sources. One lies in its
    capacity to identify, attract and nurture gifted individuals and provide them support
    and space in which to develop. Another lies in its success in promoting a culture of
    science, which places a premium on accomplishments, emphasizes scientific integrity
    and values the contribution of the teacher. A third source is its capacity to manage the
    interface between advances in basic and applied science, technological change and
    economic progress, while yet another lies in its ability to engage with the nonscientific
    public as well as policy makers, to carve a space for independent scientific
    input on a range of issues important to society.

    While we may take some limited pride in what Indian science has
    accomplished so far, given the challenges we have faced, there is much to be
    concerned about. We are far from achieving a vital, globally competitive scientific
    community of an adequate size, which engages with and is accountable to our society.
    For example, a less than a quarter of those enrolled for degrees in science in India, a
    miniscule fraction of our population, go on to complete these degrees currently. Of
    those who do finish, a far smaller fraction will ultimately enter research.

    In Indian science currently, a few islands of relative excellence and a small
    number of talented individuals stand out amidst a vast and unremarkable background.
    Indian institutions, which support the scientific enterprise, ranging from large
    universities to research institutes, government laboratories and undergraduate
    colleges, share no common clearly articulated purpose. There are problems of the
    absence of scalability of individual efforts to meaningful levels, of plain misgovernance
    and uninspired leadership, an overall lack of democratic functioning as
    well as the withering away of academic independence in many of our institutions.
    These are exacerbated by a failure to recognize how deep-rooted these problems are,
    coupled with an overall reluctance to accept correction.

    But there are also problems of a lack of imagination, a refusal to move with
    the times and the absence of a “larger picture”. We believe that a lack of clarity
    concerning the development of a scientific enterprise that is rooted both in our unique
    situation as well as in our needs as a country is an equal contributor to the problems,
    which currently confront Indian science. The economic transformations of the past
    two decades have created a sense of opportunity and dynamism in our society,
    making this an appropriate time to consider and attempt to define a vision for science
    in India.

    This document is an effort to evolve a set of collective objectives towards a
    vision for Indian science and what it could be. Virtually all of the authors of this first
    draft would be counted as “mid-career” scientists, with diverse institutional
    affiliations and fields of research, with independent scientific careers, which began in
    the early to late-1990s. Thus, straddling scientific generations across two
    transformational decades in India, our roots are in the past while we look to the future.
    It is inevitable that we will echo ideas and themes that have formed part of similar
    vision documents in the past. We have also examined a few new possibilities, some of
    which have not been addressed previously. Specifically, we would like to work

    A vital, globally competitive scientific community, engaged with and
    accountable to our society, which creates and nurtures new schools of
    thought while drawing on its own resources with a wider collaborative,
    interactive and inclusive environment for Indian science.

    This document follows a few basic themes. We begin by outlining our view of the
    desirable contours of a general landscape of science in India, based on our
    understanding as scientists of the intellectual requirements for high-quality scientific
    work and a well-informed, scientifically literate society. Against this background, in
    the next section, we suggest possible transformative changes in the structure of
    scientific institutions in India. In the final section, we examine possible routes,
    centred around the individual scientist, towards our vision for Indian science.

    1 The Space for Science

    A plurality of scientific styles and disciplines, with the possibility of multi
    disciplinary research, is an essential component of a functioning scientific community.
    The opposition of basic science vs. technology, pure vs. applied science,
    individual-based vs. team efforts, “relevant” vs “blue-skies” research distracts from
    this purpose. To maintain the vitality and responsiveness of the scientific community,
    we stress that it is necessary to foster and promote interactions with other areas of
    knowledge, with industry and with society.

    We take for granted that overall funding for education and science must reach
    levels at which Indian science can become an equal contributor to global knowledge.
    In particular, we highlight the following aspects:

    The Importance and Relevance of Basic Science

    The pursuit of basic science is a fundamental expression of human creativity. No
    national scientific enterprise can be sustainable in the long term if it does not contain
    generous room for curiosity-driven research with no conceivable or immediate pay-off
    such as, for example, research in pure mathematics. While the technological outcomes
    and social benefits of basic science are almost always long-term and rarely
    predictable, such science creates and consolidates overall competence and intellectual
    diversity. In particular, the encouragement of “small” science as opposed to large
    project-mode science, offers many specific advantages for a country such as ours,
    including modest funding requirements, scalability as well as opportunities for self-
    correction. While certain areas of science require the focused team effort and technological
    drive associated with “grand challenge” projects, such efforts can be
    successful and sustainable only against a background level of competence generated
    by relatively small, individual-centred efforts.

    We see a judicious mix of small and big science as being key to our future progress,
    but particularly stress the role of small science. The malaise in the state of
    mathematics education and research in India highlights many of the problems faced
    by basic science and may be a good test case where possible solutions may be tested
    without substantial additional investment.

    Leveraging on our Advantages

    Biodiversity, ecosystems unavailable elsewhere, a long history of knowledge of
    indigenous flora and fauna and a unique geological and geographical context are all
    India-specific advantages that other countries do not possess. India is a mega-
    biodiversity country because of its unique geo-logical and climatic past: natural
    evolution, which thrived on changes in the realms of geology and climate has created
    an immense diversity of life here, matched by few nations on earth. Similarly, while
    India represents only a sixth of the world’s population, it has the world’s largest
    human diversity. Such locational advantages automatically privilege the category of
    sciences, which address them, such as ecology, zoology, botany, earth science and
    others. In particular, the specific needs of research conducted in “natural laboratories”
    by field scientists who face unique constraints, should be addressed.

    We should specifically identify and support science, which can leverage on the
    advantages of our bio- and geo-sphere, as our niche here is unique.

    Science and Societal Goals

    Issues such as climate change and environmental degradation, ensuring the
    availability of clean water, improving the quality of public health, feeding our
    population and renewable energy are all areas where science can contribute to societal
    goals. Doing this well requires a system that encourages and fosters close interactions
    between science, the social sciences and society. We emphasize the need here for
    networking practitioners from different fields, each practicing what they do, but with
    creative stimulus and input from the others.

    We should specifically identify and support science which impacts our social goals as
    a country, networking practitioners of such science from different fields, and taking
    care to explain our efforts to the general public in the interests of social engagement
    with science and its practice.

    Bridging the gap between basic science and medicine

    There has been a major gap between clinical practitioners and other scientists, in India
    more perhaps than in any other country. The effects of the remarkable rate at which
    life-styles and the environment have changed in recent decades on public health will
    present special challenges to the clinician in the future, supplying an unprecedented
    opportunity for fruitful collaboration between basic science and medicine. Clinicians,
    epidemiologists, biologists, scientists and engineers from all branches of sciences
    must collaborate to address the challenges we will face in the future in the context of
    public health. India-specific public health issues call for special attention from us
    since other scientific communities are unlikely to address them at the scale we

    We see very strong reasons to bridge the basic science-medicine gap in India, with
    one possible test case the initiation of strong MD-Ph.D. programs.

    Connecting Science and Industry

    The interaction between science and industry is necessary from the point of view of
    inspiring innovation, generating socially useful knowledge and creating an education-
    employment without which the scientific community cannot grow and sustain itself.
    As the French Nobel laureate P.G. de Gennes once commented in this context “..
    research is not clearly segregated between fundamental and applied. To blend the two
    mind sets is not only desirable, it is essential to maintaining our economic and
    industrial competitiveness”. Many of the most remarkable technological
    developments of the past century were seeded in basic science immersed in an
    industrial environment, for example, the invention of the transistor, the laser and
    PCR, all of which were born in industrial laboratories.

    In India, there is very little engagement of basic science with industry, a gap, which
    ought to be urgently bridged. We pose the question of how best to do this to the larger
    scientific and technological community. In particular, a closer connect between
    science and industry could help in establishing an atmosphere in which the creation
    of intellectual property is a natural outcome.

    Linking Science and the Humanities

    Increasingly, the sciences and the humanities are converging in ways that could not
    have been anticipated. Disciplines such as econophysics and the cognitive sciences
    demand domain knowledge in several separated areas, while the ethical problems
    thrown up by modern biotechnology impact major philosophical issues. Yet, our
    training of students and researchers still proceeds along traditional lines, emphasizing
    rather than erasing the divisions between these fields.

    We see a need for such “cross-cultural” interaction, which bridge the gap between
    natural and social scientist.

    Increasing Public engagement with Science

    Public access to science and scientists is limited. Our institutions do little outreach of
    a significant nature. If our news papers do carry scientific content, it is often
    reproduced verbatim from articles published outside India and carry little that is
    India-specific or can inform the public about work done in this country.

    A concerted effort should be made to communicate features of Indian science
    effectively. Given the considerably larger reach of newspapers and magazines in
    languages other than English, special attention should be paid to making works
    available in translation, wherever possible.

    Science and the Framing of Public Policy:

    Public policy to which scientific input is a requirement must be addressed by
    independent, unbiased advice. In other countries, national academies of science often
    provide such input in the form of reasoned, accessible and well-argued advice on a
    variety of issues, such as global warming or genetically modified organisms. These
    documents are often sharply debated, clearly argued, written in language accessible to
    the layman and presented to lawmakers and administrators. The ability to do this
    would be a sign of the overall maturity and consolidation of our scientific community.

    In particular, we stress that interaction of the scientific community with
    administrators and lawmakers should happen in the larger context of public
    engagement and societal support for science and the scientific activity. We suggest
    the creation of multiple forums in which representatives of the scientific community
    can provide useful and regular input to public servants over a variety of issues
    involving science and technology.

    Cross-disciplinary Science:

    The push towards increased interdisciplinarity is a global phenomenon, one that we
    would be unwise to ignore. The biological sciences, for example, offer a unique
    advantage for cross-disciplinary science and we sense a growing excitement amongst
    scientists in many different fields concerning the possibilities in this area. The Indian
    bio- and geo-sphere could provide an overall background for exciting research and
    teaching, which overlaps a wide range of fields.

    We could promote interdisciplinarity by, for example, encouraging students to take
    courses across traditional departments, by centering meetings around two related and
    possibly convergent fields rather than a single area, and by making students and
    scientists aware of the possibilities of illuminating one field with ideas from another.

    2 Scientific Institutions

    In framing our suggestions in this section, we proceed from the consensus that
    scientific institutions must provide a broad base, in terms of both institutions and individuals, with a high level of
    competence in a multiplicity of disciplines the opportunity for constructive and sustained interdisciplinary interactions
    an engagement with the local environment, in both the geographical and social
    We have also kept in mind the changing social context of the last two decades, driven
    by globalization and a changing demographic profile. One outcome of economic
    growth and liberalization has been to generate a sense of collective self-confidence in
    all spheres, including that of science and technology. However, for this to have a
    positive effect on scientific and educational institutions, it is necessary to correct the
    skewed competence and infrastructure gradient that exists at present.

    More than a half-century of democracy has meant a changing demographic
    profile in our institutions of higher education and a recognition that such education
    can be enormously enabling for individuals. The resulting demand for greater access
    to higher (particularly professional) education by a wider cross section of society,
    could be an excellent catalyst for scientific growth, provided expansion is
    accompanied by an awareness of the minimum parameters required for quality. Our
    key proposals at the institutional level are:

    Revitalizing Universities

    The traditional university as a home for learning has advantages that no other system
    appears to possess. These include access to diverse disciplines, student numbers that
    are large enough to address the problems of scale, clear connection between research
    and teaching and the possibility of cross-fertilization between disciplines of science
    and the humanities. Traditional universities in many cases have been reduced to
    degree awarding bodies, with highly unsatisfactory undergraduate education that
    serves neither the purpose of post-school skill formation nor provides the necessary
    intellectual exposure or training required for research. Together with the setting up of
    new institutions, we must revitalize traditional universities by whatever means
    possible, engaging urgently in an effort to transform them into true centres of

    While the model of a research university that integrates both undergraduate
    teaching and research addresses the multiple needs for disciplinary diversity,
    pedagogical quality and excellence in research, we should also seek and explore
    possible alternatives to such structures, recognizing that the gap between supply and
    demand is likely to remain high in the fore-seeable future.

    We suggest, as others before us, that full autonomy coupled to rigorous, periodic and
    publicly accessible review may help to revitalize our universities.

    Coupling the Research Institute with the University

    The Indian scientific enterprise contains both small, relatively high-profile, standalone
    institutes as well as a large system of public and private universities. We can
    see only advantages in coupling these, thereby providing scientists from both types of
    institutions the stimulus of young minds as well as access to a variety of
    complementary approaches. This would also provide faculty from both research
    institutes and universities access to a joint spectrum of research facilities. One way to
    do this would be to recommend that all new institutes to be set up must forge links
    with one or more universities at the outset. In tandem, we must explore ways of
    connecting existing institutions with similar aims in mind.

    We suggest a significant increase in the number of joint appointments between
    universities and research institutes, stressing that such joint appointments must allow
    for equal participation, and thus a genuine stake, in both institutions. Joint Ph.D.
    programs, offered between a cluster of universities and research institutions, may
    help to create critical masses of students in graduate programs, thus partially
    addressing the long-term problems of a shortage of faculty.

    Public versus Private Support for Science

    Science and education, which are by nature collective investments in a a common
    good, require public support. In most developed countries, however, there is
    significant additional private sector funding in key areas of technology, medicine and
    education. We believe that it is important that the private sector sees advantages in
    engaging with and supporting research through the exploration of common interests.
    For example, such support could come from private funding to support Ph.D. students
    and post-doctoral fellows working on problems of interest to industry. More broadly,
    the employability of graduates is something that a dialogue between private industry
    and research/education could play a large role in addressing.

    How and where private investment can positively reinforce our goals in the Indian
    context needs to be addressed, while avoiding treating education solely as a
    commodity to be purchased.

    Institutional Autonomy

    In the long term, rigorous autonomy of academic institutions i.e. autonomy at the
    level of determining research and teaching goals, hiring faculty and constructing
    appropriate and modern syllabi appears to be the only way to proceed. We do,
    however, see the need for a few restrictions, particularly in those spheres, which
    impact diversity and inclusiveness.

    We see no reason to deny scientific institutions and universities increasing functional
    autonomy, provided they are evaluated periodically and effectively through unbiased
    external review and aligned with social goals regarding diversity and inclusiveness.

    Ensuring Accountability and Periodic Evaluation

    Publicly-funded institutions should be reviewed regularly and in a credible,
    professional manner, with the results of the review placed in the public domain and
    responses to it also made publicly available. An emphasis on accountability places a
    stronger responsibility on both the institutions being reviewed as well as the reviewer,
    whose comments will come into the public domain. The counterpart to this for private
    institutions is a credible assessment and accreditation system, which students can
    trust. An institution should also be accountable for how it treats its “clients”,
    including faculty members and scientists who work there, the students who pursue
    their degrees there and the support and administrative staff who act as enablers.

    We see accountability as being critical and a transparent, publicly accessible review
    mechanism as the single most important way of ensuring such accountability.

    Encouraging Diversity and Inclusiveness

    Institutions in a diverse society ought to reflect a comparable diversity. However,
    many Indian institutions reflect only a small part of that diversity, depriving students
    and the Indian scientific enterprise of the benefits of cross-fertilization of
    backgrounds and knowledge. We stress the need for broader representation of
    diversity at all levels and review of hiring policies that are not consistent with
    questions of social justice. We, as an academic and professional community, should
    take initiative to nurture potential for accomplishment and excellence in all
    populations and give due attention to remove gender/caste/class inequality that exists
    in the country. We need to ensure that larger numbers of women enter (as well as
    remain in) science for which no legal provisions have been made so far. We must
    review working conditions and informal practices that make it hard for women to be
    equal participants with men.

    Our working environments must be inclusive, safe and supportive for all who are part
    of them.

    Broad-basing Input for Decision-making

    One way of building up engagement of an institution’s members to that institution and
    its goals is to encourage wide and meaningful input from them. Then, decision-
    making can be largely collective and consensual rather than imposed from outside.

    We suggest, for example, a far broader role for faculty at a given institution in hiring
    decisions, (a situation which does not exist at the moment in a large number of Indian
    institutions), subject to our concerns regarding accountability. This will enable
    separate institutions to choose growth paths, which are adapted to their special skills
    and background and aid in the process of democratizing decision making.

    Encouraging and Supporting Hands-on Science

    In general, the space for practical, hands-on, laboratory or field-based science appears
    to be declining, possibly as a consequence of the increasingly theoretical bent of our
    examination system and the fact that hands-on science demands a larger fraction of
    resources. (Quantifying a pen-and-paper answer is surely easier than evaluating
    skilful lab technique or special ability in designing working experiments.) This
    presents dangers at many levels; a society which views “manual” work as something
    different and inferior to “intellectual” work will find it difficult to bridge the gap
    between theory and practice.

    We specifically suggest a greater emphasis on hands-on, laboratory science at the
    undergraduate and post-graduate level, with targeted funding for this purpose made

    Attention to Pedagogy

    While what we communicate is important, how we communicate it is often no less
    important. Can we develop effective, localized methodologies to transfer knowledge?
    To what extent can electronic methodologies expand access to larger numbers of
    students? Are there non-traditional ways to approach the problem of upgrading the
    quality of knowledge? How can we make India-specific pedagogies, which have a
    higher likelihood of success?

    We stress the need for innovative teaching methods in science, connecting real-life
    observations with textbooks, encouraging critical thought and teaching the joy of
    science. We need to make our textbooks and our teaching, particularly at the school
    level, more stimulating and challenging for the student.

    3 The Individual Scientist

    The Importance of Individual Evaluation

    Very few scientists can claim to be entirely self-motivated. The vast majority require
    feed back, through either institutional mechanisms or com-munity mechanisms, for
    development. We suggest that evaluation mechanisms be developed which encourage
    periodic, systematic and productive review, beyond the two or three promotion
    exercises a faculty member undergoes during the course of his or her career.

    It is crucial that we, as scientists, be comfortable with regular review, and a culture
    for doing this must evolve.

    Developing Methods for Rewarding Performance

    No system can encourage achievement unless it is able to reward the achiever
    suitably. In the past, such rewards were memberships of academies or came through
    awards and prizes, reflecting the approbation of the com-munity as a whole.

    We believe there is, however, scope for much more at the local, institutional level, in
    which the rewards might be non-financial but nevertheless useful, such as a category
    of no-strings grants for high achievement.

    The Importance of Mentoring

    We pay too little attention to the mentoring that a young scientist must receive, apart
    from informal mechanisms. We need to evolve systematic and formal mechanisms for
    the mentoring of young scientists, to enable them to navigate the maze of research
    funding and to efficiently establish useful networks. Regular meetings in which young
    scientists and post-doctoral fellows can be given an opportunity to meet senior
    mentors would be a good investment in the long term.

    It should be possible to make adequate mentoring an additional input for promotion
    to a more senior level as well as to recognize, publicly, the cascading effects of good

    Promoting Investment in Collective Goals

    We need to evolve mechanisms by which institutions benefit from investment by
    competent individuals in collective goals while recognizing and responding to
    individual and specialized needs.

    Such goals must be clearly articulated while recognizing the need for individuals to
    preserve their time and concentration, a particularly important requirement in the
    case of teaching institutions as well as research institutions with very specific
    mandates and little academic freedom beyond them.

    Rewarding Outreach at an Individual Level

    Public disengagement with science stems largely from the relatively low levels of
    outreach. Outreach can be both at the institutional level as well as at the level of the
    individual scientist.

    It should be possible for individual scientists to receive credit and support for
    scientific outreach activities, such as teaching at the school and college level, writing
    popularly accessible books and articles, translation of scientific material into local
    languages, development of teaching aids etc.

    Promoting Leadership

    We have no mechanisms in place, apart from informal ones, which promote specific
    qualities of leadership. The importance of good, principled leadership at the helm of
    scientific affairs cannot be overemphasized. The ability to manage effectively is, to
    some extent, a teachable skill and we should examine how this may best be done. In
    particular, we believe that seniority should play, at best, a minor role in deciding
    appointments to positions of leadership; what is far more crucial is the ability to lead
    imaginatively and transformatively, something younger scientists may be able to do
    more effectively.

    We need to identify scientific leaders and trust them early with positions of authority
    and influence.

    Encouraging National and International Networks

    Much of science internationally is done as a consequence of the use of networks of
    research interests, which hinge on separated but synergistic skills being combined
    towards a single, well-defined goal. Meetings of professional societies provide a
    model for the planned interaction of large numbers of scientists belonging to the same
    scientific community and the systematic promotion of the meetings of professional
    societies may be another way of achieving the right quality of networking. To better
    integrate Indian institutions with international ones, the possibility of having a
    number of non-Indian faculty must be examined. Scientists from the Indian diaspora
    are a natural community with which increased networking might be more efficient and
    we stress the importance of continued efforts to attract scientists of Indian origin
    working outside India to Indian institutions.

    We must make a deliberate effort to increase networking in the sense of
    collaborations both at the national and the international level.


    We hope the ideas proposed and discussed here will help provide a deeper
    understanding of the challenges we face as well as signal our own confidence that we,
    as a community, can address them at this time. We suggest “Science for excellence,
    empowerment and enlightenment” as a desirable outcome, describing an emphasis on
    excellence, the positioning of Indian science in a larger social context, and the all-
    round development of scientific temper as larger goals to be addressed in any vision
    for Indian science.

    We believe that there may be no perfect model for how Indian science should
    develop, but rather that any such model should, in the spirit of our democracy,
    incorporate the “peer review of the community” at every stage. Thus, the
    consolidation of a vision for Indian science should itself be a democratic, peer-
    reviewed activity. We welcome suggestions from the larger scientific and
    technological community, which address and augment the issues raised in this
    document. Finally, we note that discipline-specific proposals, which consider the
    specific needs and projections of individual fields are vital inputs towards
    implementing an overall vision for Indian science. We invite the larger scientific
    community to provide us with such specific inputs, so that they may be consolidated
    into a comprehensive vision document for Indian science.


    Dear Colleague,

    Please find below the text of a draft “Vision Document for Indian Science”,
    commissioned by the President, Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi as a
    special initiative of INSA in its Platinum Jubilee year.

    The idea behind this document is that it should serve as a guide for Indian
    science policy in the short and intermediate term. At a broader level, it should provide
    scientists, educationalists, administrators and policy makers an idea of the issues,
    which confront Indian science today together with input from the scientific
    community, which clarifies how best they might be addressed in order to strengthen
    and consolidate the Indian scientific enterprise. It, of course, involves continuous
    referral to this document by all of us and ensure that it is used as baseline in all future
    policy decisions.

    While preparation of this draft was delegated to a smaller group of scientists,
    we believe that the consolidation of such a document should itself be a democratic,
    peer-reviewed process, in analogy with the conduct of science. We consider it crucial
    that this draft document be widely circulated, discussed and modified, depending on
    inputs received, prior to its acceptance by INSA. This would also aid in the wider
    acceptance of the final document, since it would then be seen as truly representative
    of the views of the larger scientific community and other stakeholders.

    We would be very grateful if you could take the time to study this document,
    to discuss it with your colleagues as well as to circulate it to others who you believe
    might be interested and whose contributions could provide valuable input towards the
    final version.


  9. Hutom
    December 14, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks slumdog. I’ll pass it on. I must say however that there has been no shortage of documented `vision’ in India, either in science or in anything else. It is in the implementation where shortsightedness sets in.

  10. Sam
    July 30, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Why don’t you guys have the guts to write your name and title in CSIR? Are you guys so afraid of the Management?

  1. November 11, 2009 at 4:30 pm
  2. November 17, 2009 at 6:08 pm
  3. November 23, 2009 at 3:09 pm

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