March 03, 2024

Relevance of the National Science Day

Bappa Sinha

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THE National Science Day is celebrated on February 28 every year to commemorate the discovery of the Raman Effect by Nobel laureate C V Raman. The stated objective of celebrating National Science Day is to popularise science and technology and to promote a scientific temper among the general public. It encourages critical thinking, rational decision-making, and a spirit of inquiry, which are essential for societal progress. The day emphasises the need for continued investment in scientific research and development due to its transformative power in people’s daily lives and in nation-building.

The government has declared “Indigenous Technologies for Viksit Bharat” as this year’s theme for the National Science Day.


Science is simply the study of the world around us. It is the systematic quest to understand the world around us. It covers everything from studying the smallest particles (such as electrons) and energy fields to the largest, heaviest (such as super-massive black holes), distant objects in the universe, and everything in between – understanding our galaxy, solar system, the sun, our earth, the moon, life on earth and the human body. It tries to understand how the universe came into existence and how life began on earth and evolved to its most advanced forms. And even trying to explain the workings of the biological machinery driving the intelligence and consciousness of the most advanced species, which enables us to wonder about, question and try to answer all of this, including our own existence and consciousness. The scope of science is truly enormous, spectacular and fascinating.

While we often club science and technology together, they are, in fact, different though related things. Technology is the activity and knowledge of making tools and artefacts, while science is about understanding why things work or happen the way they do. Technology is not applied science but an independent activity.

Advances in science open up the possibility for technological advances. But only the possibility.  To build something in the real world, technologists need to bridge the gap between what is known and what is not. This empirical knowledge comes from practice. Conversely, advances in technology and new tools enable us to observe new things and phenomena that may lead to new science – such as the discovery of the telescope allowed us to look further into the sky, which led to advances in astronomy and, eventually, physics. More recently, engineering marvels like the Large Hadron Collider, the Hubble and now the James Webb Telescopes are letting us “see” things that we haven't seen before, leading to new theories in physics.

Technology is linked to and driven by production and the needs of production and its improvement. The widely held view that science is pure knowledge and technology is less so, viewed merely as the application of science, comes from a class society privileging matters of the mind over those of the hand. Prabir Purkayasta, while discussing this issue, writes in his book “Knowledge as Commons”: “From the slave societies of Greece and Rome, to the caste-driven society of India, the world of artefacts has been separated from the world of ideas. Scientists and mathematicians could enter the world of ideas, but not those who worked with their hands. The European aristocracy, first slave-owning and later land-owning, despised labour and, along with it, the instrument of labour – technology. So did the upholders of the caste system.” He mentions the life of Oliver Heaviside to illustrate this point. Heaviside, a telegraph operator and a brilliant technician without a formal education, changed science by reformulating Maxwell’s laws of electricity in the form we know today. He also changed mathematics by solving differential equations as algebraic equations. And yet, he remains a relatively unknown figure even today in spite of his major work in physics and mathematics.


Technology existed far before science began, or even our species (Homo Sapiens) existed. Species like Homo Erectus, from whom we evolved, had learned the controlled use of fire and stone tools. In fact, stone tools existed around 2 million years ago and might have predated the “Homo” genus.

Science, on the other hand, began much later with settled agriculture around 10,000 years ago. Settled agriculture initially started in river valleys in arid regions, so seasonal floods were crucial for agriculture, hence the need to predict their arrival. This could only be done once we could accurately predict the seasons by looking at the night sky and observing the position of the stars. This would be an early example of the use of astronomy and science.

Science is not value-neutral. What you decide to research and what you decide not to research are value, and politics-dependent. How to interpret your research findings is also dependent on politics. How science and technology is deployed and for whose benefit, is dependent on who controls society and the means of production. This tension is vividly described in the recent movie on Oppenheimer. Where the initial effort to build the atomic bomb is justified by the leading scientists on the fact that Nazi Germany was also in the race to build one, and it was critical for the Allied powers to have the bomb before Nazi Germany did. However, once the war was won, the same scientists, including Einstein and Oppenheimer, vigorously campaigned against building the more powerful hydrogen bomb as they realised the threat nuclear bombs posed to humanity and life on earth. The US state blacklisted Oppenheimer for this opposition even though he had successfully led the atomic bomb project.

The scientific method works by observing the world around you, then making a working hypothesis to explain the observations, and then testing the predictions of the hypothesis experimentally in a reliable and repeatable manner. Only then is the hypothesis accepted as theory. The beauty of the method is that it relies on empirical evidence to validate a theory and not on the authority of the high priests of science.

Scientific spirit is about applying the scientific method to one’s way of thinking and world outlook. This implies we rely on rationality and not faith. Question everything, especially question authority. Rely on empirical evidence, observation and logic and encourage vigorous debates on all matters.


We have witnessed the Hindutva forces and the current government launch an all-out attack on scientific spirit and rationality. They have resorted to myth-making, treating myths as history, rewriting history, promoting pseudo-science and making ridiculous claims. The first Modi government created the AYUSH ministry to promote ayurveda and homoeopathy and has made concerted efforts to equate quackery to actual scientific medicine. At the height of the COVID pandemic, Modi proclaimed that it was time for the world to embrace ayurveda, calling it “holistic science” and touted its role in boosting immunity.

Various members of the Sangh Parivar and the government have claimed that all knowledge is contained in the vedas, that flying machines, nuclear bombs and plastic surgery existed during the vedic times. They have promoted researching the “medicinal qualities” of Gaumutra and attacked Darwin, Newton and Einstein at the Indian Science Congress to eventually cancelling the Science Congress this year.

However, the attack on rationality comes not just from hindutva and extreme right-wing forces worldwide. There is a larger tendency that originated from the US, which seeks to delegitimise rational, comprehensive thought by branding those critical of the violence in the society and of the ruling classes as elites. So, in an ultimate irony, critical teachers, professors and intellectuals are dismissed as elites by the forces backed by the ruling elites. The format of primetime TV shows and social media encourages slick sound bites over detailed and thoughtful commentary, furthering this tendency among all sections of society.

We can all agree that the government’s theme for this year's National Science Day – “Indigenous Technologies for Vikshit Bharat” is a noble objective. However, this remains a mere slogan for the government as it pushes policies in the opposite direction. From promoting irrationality, pseudo-science and outright nonsense to cutting higher education and research funding and aggressively pushing the privatisation and dumbing down of education through the National Education Policy (NEP), the government seems hell-bent on creating conditions inimical to the progress of science and technology in the country today.


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