As per the Indian Constitution, a fundamental duty of Indian citizens is to develop a scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. Section V of our Constitution, Article 51A on ‘Fundamental Duties’ begins by saying: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India…”
In the enumeration of such duties, sub-clause (h) talks about ‘scientific temper’. The first Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in his book “Discovery of India” said, “ [What is needed] is the scientific approach, the adventurous and yet critical temper of science, the search for truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed fact and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind—all this is necessary, not merely for the application of science but for life itself and the solution of its many problems.” But amidst all of this, we need to ask ourselves today whether we are a scientific society or not. What is the meaning of scientific communication in India?
Scientific communication is all about ‘rational thinking and approach’. It can challenge ‘blind faiths’, cure ‘mass hysteria’ and ‘false public beliefs’ through rational reporting. Science communicators often bridge the communication gap between the complex scientific world and the common masses. If we are communicating anything related with science to the aam aadmi (common man), then the what, why, where, when, who and how of that ‘particular’ theme is expected to be explained in a lucid manner and in layman’s language.
Information is needed to make informed choices and to update ourselves with time. We all have an ‘awareness instinct’ within us. Science directly or indirectly influences our well being, life-style, and survival. The past two decades have witnessed a phenomenal growth in scientific activities and practitioners of scientific communication have also increased.
However, to what extent science and scientific knowledge are actually transmitted to the common masses remains a tricky question in India. Although several programmes and initiatives have been launched to promote science and communicate science but still a lot more needs to be done. The primary concern is to help science and scientific cultures penetrate India’s diverse society and to transform India into a nation of scientifically thinking and scientifically aware people.
Scientific communication serves as a medium for bridging the gap between the scientific community and the common masses. It is also an effective tool for extending scientific boundaries and for gaining wide public support for important research and developments happening in the world, which is indispensable for society’s welfare.
In the past too, scientific communication has been used by governments for generating awareness. Government campaigns such as “Hum Do, Hamare Do” for population control, awareness campaigns about HIV-AIDS, anti-tobacco/drugs/smoking campaigns, dengue/malaria awareness drives, Swachha Bharat Abhiyan, etc. All these activities are a part of science communication. One of the remarkable achievements in this regard was the eradication of Polio from India and this was only achieved due to rampant and aggressive social and public awareness through the ‘Pulse Polio Abhiyaan – Do Boond Zindagi Ki’ which contributed to this success story.
Although much has been achieved in India, there is still an urgent need to make scientific communication activities and efforts more rampant, both in terms of quality and quantity. We have yet to make a dent in wiping out superstitions, false beliefs and myths that have prevailed throughout the ages, particularly in backward areas where literacy levels are low and superstition is a way of living life. More seriously planned agendas and policies for science communication in a truly transparent manner are a pre-requisite to engage and speed-up science communication.
A multi-prolonged strategy is required to make science communication more effective and to address obstacles associated with it. Scientists need to be trained in the art of science communication while journalists must be oriented towards at least some basic understanding of sciences and its methodology. More platforms should be created to engage scientists and media practitioners to have close dialogues on issues pertaining to latest scientific developments.
There is a need to present timely news, research, analyses & insights on grassroots-based environmental/science related struggles and realizing the importance of ground-level reporting. It is absolutely necessary to build a collaborative infrastructure between science and society. While transmission of information remains important, the bigger challenge remains to develop scientific temperament and positive attitude towards science communication. And, the scientific temperament will only be strengthened when scientific news will find its place in the mainstream media.