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Editorial Articles

Issue no 48, 25 February-3 March 2023

Popularising Science and Promoting Scientific Temper

Science is being regarded as a powerful means to growth and development. Science and technology have made deep impact on all activities and spheres of human life. It is difficult to imagine life without the use of science and technology. Scientific progress has changed the face of the world and the way we think and live. India has been at the forefront of scientific progress in the recent past and is among the top ranking countries in the field of basic research. As the country observes National Science Day on February 28, Employment News looks at the efforts to take science to the masses through various means of communication. AIR Correspondent Bhupendra Singh spoke to Dr. Nakul Parashar, Director, Vigyan Prasar, for EN.

EN: Can you tell us about some of the recent advancements in science and technology in India?

Dr Parashar: India has caught up with the world in almost every area of research & development during the past eight years. You name it any, and you'll find us there. The latest example is how India quickly responded to vaccine-related research & development and the need for it at the pandemic's peak. Besides, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, Hydrogen energy, advanced Plant Breeding, making space travel accessible for masses and much more are some new frontiers that excite every Indian science researcher and communicator alike.


EN: How do you see India's scientific progress contributing to global scientific advancements?

Dr Parashar: Our vaccine development and production are a classic and the latest example of how Indian Science & Technology rose to the occasion and delivered the goods on the ground on the global level. Our space programme is yet another feather in the cap of global science research & development. Our mass adoption of alternate fuels for transportation and energy requirements has come through our indigenous research & development, which is also benefitting the rest of the world. All of this is proven by the fact that India is number three in the world with regard to the number of research papers produced every year in the world. These and many more examples clearly show that day is not far from now when India will emerge as number one in the world.


EN: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the Indian scientific community today?

Dr Parashar: Looking at the geographical size and huge population with a massive variety in terms of culture and language, the connection gap between the scientists and the public is still quite big. For a scientificallyaware nation, it is important that scientific temper is prevalent in its citizens. Thus, it is important to recognise science communication popularisation and its extension (SCoPE) as an important field in itself, and efforts to grow this subject nationwide should be stepped up. For this, the biggest challenge is the need for a huge number of science communicators or Vigyan Pracharaks in the country. In every scientific institution, whether it is a university, college, or an R&D organisation, a complete team of trained and dedicated science communicators is required to establish the required connect between the institution and the public. The second biggest challenge in this direction is developing, required popular science & technology content in Indian languages with adequate outreach. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us how electronic media has played an important role in disseminating science to the masses in remote areas. Thus, the massive application of newer technologies of mass communication in S&T communication is yet another area that our country requires to be implemented. For this, adequate training and development of resources are paramount.


EN: In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions about science and scientific research in India, and how can they be addressed?

Dr Parashar: The communication gap between scientists and the public has given birth to a number of misconceptions about science & technology. Despite the fact that science & technology R&D has provided and continues to provide a good number of job opportunities, it is still considered dry and drab. Lack of proper communication in an effective manner has kept a large portion of society away from immense opportunities and the interesting world of science & technology. To address this misconception that has led to many disadvantages, effective science communication, popularisation and outreach (SCoPE) is the key to the problem. More and more structured training programmes in SCoPE should be started at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Degrees and Diplomas in SCoPE should be duly recognised for various job opportunities in government & nongovernment sectors. More and more positions at district and block levels in school and college levels should be created. Like Krishi Vigyan Kendras, Vigyan Prasar Kendras should be opened up at various levels where do-it-yourself kits, books, and audio & video material should be available for the masses


EN: What are some of the key areas that you believe India should focus on in terms of scientific research and development?

Dr Parashar: To propel scientific research and development in the country, it is important to maximise the demographic advantage that India has. For this, it is important to develop interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary research & development in the country. The question is how would more and more people be attracted towards it. Enhancing the annual spending on science & technology by opening up more and new centres across the nation as specialised centres of excellence with adequate impetus on science communication popularisation and extension (SCoPE). While everything should not be left to the government, the private sector's participation is equally important, and thus, more and more public-private partnership initiatives should be encouraged.


EN: How is Vigyan Prasar addressing scientific communication and disseminating research findings to the general public?

Dr Parashar: Vigyan Prasar (VP), an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, aims to popularise and promote science and technology among the general public. It has been promoting scientific temper amongst the masses for over thirty-three years through various media, including print, electronic, social, and digital. VP has published over 300 popular science books and produces popular science serials in 19 Indian languages, which are broadcast through 121 radio stations. They have also established a network of more than 4000 VIPNET clubs that organise regular scientific activities and lectures. In addition, VP has dedicated projects on scientific awareness for women, Scheduled Tribes, and weaker sections of society. It also provides resources for academic courses in science communication and popularisation. VP manages the country's biggest online repository of S&T information called Vigyan Vaibhav and have specialised in disseminating information on Astronomy, Amateur Radio, Mathematics, and Biodiversity. VP also manages the AWSAR (Augmenting Writing Skills for Articulating Research) competition programme, which trains Ph.D and Post-doctoral Fellows to articulate their research in easily understandable language for the masses.


EN: How is Vigyan Prasar working towards making scientific knowledge accessible and comprehensible to people who are more comfortable in their native languages?

Dr Parashar: Vigyan Prasar launched its Vigyan Bhasha programme a few years ago with the aim to popularise science & technology for the masses in various Indian languages. In these languages, VP publishes monthly magazines and popular science books, produces short films, organises popular science lectures for school & higher education youth, events and fairs and exhibitions in various cities and towns of various states. From the monthly standpoint, VP publishes monthly magazines - starting from Hindi & English, the monthlies in these languages are called Dream 2047. In Kashmiri, it's called Gaash, and the Dogri's version is called Vigyan Jattra. In Urdu, the magazine's title is called Tajassus, whereas, in Punjabi, it is called Jigyasa. The Gujarati version is titled as Jignyasa, and the Marathi monthly is called Vigyan Vishwa. As we move down south, the VP's version in Kannada is called Kutuhalli, and Ariviyal Palagai is the Tamil monthly. Vigyan Vaani is the Telugu one, and the Bangla monthly is known as Bigyan Katha. In Assamese, it's Xandhan, and the one in Maithili is called Vigyan Ratnakar. Besides magazines, VP has and continues to publish popular science books in this domain. Interestingly, as an example worth quoting here, VP sold all its nine titles published in Bangla at the recently concluded International Kolkata Book Fair. This shows the popularity and need for more and more books in Indian languages.

EN: Please tell us more about Vigyan Prasar's initiatives geared towards promoting scientific temper among the masses like its program Science on Television?

Dr Parashar: India Science, the nation's own S&T OTT Channel, was launched on 15th January 2019 as Vigyan Prasar's flagship project. In this direction, VP has produced more than 4000 films so far and, thus, has attained the minimal critical mass required to run a full 24x7 DTH channel as well. While efforts are on to utilise Doordarshan as the platform for telecasting a massive repository of popular science films, other OTT platforms like Jio are already hosting IndiaScience films. However, in the past VP has been telecasting several programmes under its Science-on-TV project through its association with the erstwhile RSTV and LSTV, where popular Science monitor weekly programmes and Eureka had been very popular. VP still thus, has a large surplus of programmes that it had produced much before IndiaScience OTT came into existence, and most of it is available on its website: www.vigyanprasar.gov.in


EN: How does Vigyan Prasar work with other scientific institutions and bodies in India to promote collaboration and share knowledge and resources?

Dr Parashar: Vigyan Prasar, through its Vigyan Bhasha project (which is also called SCoPE-in-Indian Languages), has partnered with various organisations in the country, like the Central University of Kashmir, Gujarat Council for Science & Technology, Karnataka Academy of Science & Technology, NIT-Warangal, CM Science College in Darbhanga and many more. With the help of these organizations VP reaches out to the masses in local Indian languages. Besides, VP also interacts regularly with more than 126 autonomous organisations of CSIR, DBT, DST, MoES, DoS and DAE to aggregate content and repurpose it in a popular manner that is easily understandable to the masses of the country.


EN: How is Vigyan Prasar celebrating Science Day this year?

Dr Parashar: The theme of this year's national science day is Global Science for Global Well-being. Vigyan Prasar, with its partners all across the nation, will be celebrating National Science Day in various formats and events. The main programme will be held in New Delhi at Vigyan Bhawan, where the Hon'ble Minister of State Independent charge for Science & Technology Dr Jitendra Singh will preside over the function. He shall be giving away national awards in the domain of science communication and AWSAR prizes to its winners. Besides, former Principal Scientific Adviser Dr Vijayaraghavan will deliver the key note lecture this year.


EN: Looking to the future, what do you see as the most exciting areas of scientific research and development in India and globally?

Dr Parashar: Technology is rapidly changing, and so are various sectors associated with it. With newer applications emerging rapidly, the past few decades have seen the development of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research & development. Examples galore ---intervention of artificial intelligence in almost every sphere of life, robotic process automation, drug discovery, space research, alternate energy sources and much more of course are exciting areas of scientific research & development. While all of this is happening, newer experiments in making science & technology more interesting to understand is taking place too. To conclude, as science & technology makes strides in the service of humankind, science communication too, becomes more and more interesting.


(The interviewer is Correspondent, All India Radio. He can be reached at airnews.bhupendra@gmail.com)


Views expressed are personal.