Posts Tagged ‘CSIR’

Academies eat Brinjal pie!

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Found a nice article by Pushpa M. Bhargava, the former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology on bt-brinjal (eggplant), more specifically the report of the science academies, which I had mentioned earlier. (Scroll down to below the first article by Shanthu Shantharam, who represents the pro-GM crop industries.) Bhargava discusses the scientific demerits of the report much better than I have, and it is a must read for anyone interested in this debate.

I also discovered another interesting fact, that Bhargava had resigned his membership of all the three science academies in 1994, because he considered them, among other things, “intellectually sterile” and “instruments of personal gratification”. What he did not mention was that these days, IITs and various institutes pay an additional Rs.25000 per month to any faculty who is a member of two academies. Since one can become a member only by being nominated and then elected, the academies have also become `instruments’ of corruption in a more conventional sense. The members can `help’ the appropriate people to get about a 25% increase in salary.

I knew that Richard Feynman became so exasperated [at the National Academy of Sciences] that he resigned his membership, saying that he saw no point in belonging to an organization that spent most of its time deciding who to let in. I did not expect anyone to have said anything similar in the Indian environment. My respect for Puhspa Bhargava just went up a notch or two.

CSIR-Tech Report: A familiar story?

December 10, 2009 1 comment

The CSIR-Tech: Path Forward report prepared by Shiva Ayyadurai and Deepak Sardan has been made public here, with the addenda here. I had a look at the report, and found it to be a very unprofessionally prepared report, even for a draft. Shiva Ayyadurai seems to have several degrees from MIT, including a PhD, even if he is not a faculty there. From  a childish `dedication’ and a haphazard table of contents, to a badly prepared list of meetings called the `historic timeline’, the quality of  the report is terrible. I would not expect a report of this quality to get a passing grade in a course at any  reputable university, let alone MIT or ANU (where Sardana had his PhD).

But irrespective of the quality of the report, and the quality of the writers, there are some points in it which are all too familiar from any number of scientific institutions in the country. I specifically looked at Chapter 7, the one which reportedly caused all the ruckus. It seems to be based on some findings of a different expert, Ian Dean, some sort of a `Leadership consultant’.

Several points here are very familiar to many of us who suffer the authorities in scientific institutions. Directors do not respond to emails or even written communications, and when they do, it is by word of mouth to which they cannot be held accountable. Director’s meetings, especially with scientists, tend to become monologues; disagreements are often shouted down or ridiculed, and minutes of meetings read like lecture notes, without any details of discussion or feedback. And massive disorganization? In the institutes there are committees, often headed by scientists, meant to take care of administrative issues. The scientists are often not terribly interested in the particular issues they have been asked to oversee, and the non-scientists in the committee get away with not doing any work by making the scientist the fall guy. Only purchase and finance committees get their work done in a reasonable time, other committees take forever to achieve anything.

The other problems noted in this chapter also seem quite familiar, maybe I could discuss them at another time. What I do find interesting is that in various blogs like this one and newspapers, the discussion is about the personality of Shiva Ayyadurai, and not the very real problems listed in his report (which may have been actually pointed out by Ian Dean in any case).

The Ascetic among women

November 11, 2009 Leave a comment

A while ago, there was a conference in New Delhi on Women in science (I think this one). It was inaugurated by the President of India. One man addressed the gathering, and said “I am surrounded by women, but I have no fear, since I am a Brahmachari.” While Brahmachari does mean an ascetic (in particular someone abstaining from sex), he is not really one, as he has a family and children. This was a pun on his own last name, a pun in very poor taste, as it indicated that he thought of women in terms only of their sexuality, even when they are present in the capacity of scientists.

He went on to say that (he thought) women did not succeed as scientists because they did not want to succeed, i.e. they did not have the same drive as men, not because of any discrimnation. In any civilised nation, such a comment would have people baying for his blood, and he would have had to apologise, and perhaps resign from his post.

In India, however, this man continues to head a major Science and Technology funding and awards agency of the Government, in charge of providing research grants to scientists. I have no idea if the Ayyadurai-Sardana report discusses problems faced by women scientists in CSIR labs. I hope somebody looks into that.

Categories: Education Tags: , ,

Shiva the destroyer

November 4, 2009 13 comments

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.