A Day to embody the true spirit of science


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This topic of “A Day to embody the true spirit of science” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.


February 28 – National Science Day

  • The Government of India is organising a Science Week, ‘Vigyan Sarvatra Pujyate’, as a prelude to National Science Day on February 28 that commemorates Sir C.V. Raman’s discovery on light scattering.
  • The program appears to have been designed to make youth be proud of India’s scientific achievements.

What the editorial is about?

  • The necessity to promote critical thinking in our academic centres.

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Dissent as the essence of science

  • A prominent physicist of our times, Freeman Dyson in his book, The Scientist as Rebel, makes a clear argument about why dissent is the soul of science.
  • According to Dyson, there is no such thing as a unique scientific vision.
  • For him, the vision of science is not specifically Western. It is no more Western than it is Arab or Indian or Japanese or Chinese. Arabs and Indians and Japanese and Chinese had a big share in the development of modern science.

The main takeaways from Dyson

  • Science is universal, like music, dance or poetry.
  • There is nothing like Indian, American or Chinese science.
  • Science was initially nurtured through exchanges of ideas that moved like merchandise between distant places over the ancient trade routes.
  • Dyson considered evidence-based modern science as an intellectual rebellion or as a form of dissent against social constraints, as exemplified by the Islamic and the European renaissance of the science of the Middle Ages, or the reawakening in India around the 19th century that formed the background for the independence struggle.

Science of then and now

  • For Indian scientists of those days, science was a double rebellion, against English domination as well as the fatalistic ethos of Hinduism.
  • This rebellious spirit led to a resurgence of science in India in the pre-Independence days.
  • Sir C.V. Raman’s discovery cannot be seen as independent of the social reformism of those days.
  • With the ideological shift toward the right in recent times, the spectre of conformism that was lying low in our collective consciousness has now returned with a vengeance. And, academic freedom is now under greater pressure to tow the official line than ever before.

What needs to be done for science to excel?

  • If science must excel it needs to promote free spirit.
  • As Dyson argues, science is an inherently subversive act — a threat to the establishment of all kinds, whether it upends a long-standing scientific idea, or it questions the received political wisdom or irrationality.
  • For him, “Science is an alliance of free spirits in all cultures rebelling against the local tyranny that each culture imposes on its children.”

Make-belief science or Pseudoscience

  • The Indian family landscape is authoritarian and patriarchal, though benevolent to the obedient, in its dealings.
  • Early on, children are sensitized to a collective self.
  • We grow with a loss of self and learn to subsume our worth as an individual.
  • An Indian is thus culturally tuned to uphold the family’s integrity, religion, caste and/or regional identity rather than her individual strengths.
  • Such societies with patriarchal moorings automatically generate conditions for authoritarian rule, generating an ambience of fear that may not be conducive for path-breaking enquiries.
  • Rather, it tends to feed the conceit of the rulers by inventing make-belief science or pseudoscience.

Need for a shift

Cultural shifts

  • Tradition-bound countries such as India need to free themselves from the cultural chains of the past to foster original thinking.
  • A “good humoured disdain for perceived wisdom and disregard for authority”, which is called ‘irreverence’ is important in science.
  • The cultural shifts are not easy to accomplish, particularly in a tradition-bound society.
  • Scientists have a special duty to foster a free and unfettered intellectual ambience by actively engaging in the transformation of values both within and outside workplaces.

Strengthen social-democratic norms

  • A fundamental challenge is how to strengthen the social-democratic norms within the institutes, representative of Indian diversity and plurality.
  • Only then will academic centres become a marketplace of ideas.


  • National Science Day should offer forums where freewheeling discussions of such themes are organized, epitomizing the true spirit of science, thus unleashing its tremendous transformative power.

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