Using 'science' appropriately


(Setting aside the use of the word ‘faith’) The work that some parts of CSIR has done and is doing is indeed very good. However, I feel we are not all properly attuned to the difference between the words “science” and “technology”. I don’t accuse Mande of ignorance but possibly the New Indian Express, the publisher. In a writer-publisher relationship, the latter usually determines the headlines.

Being more aware of what the words mean is important for us as mediapersons to use them in the right context, and this in turn is consequential because the improper overuse of one term can mask deficiencies in its actual implementation. For example, I would rather have used ‘Technology as saviour’ as the headline for Mande’s piece, and for various pieces in the Indian mainstream news space. But by using science, I fear these publications are giving the impression that Indian science is currently very healthy, effective and true to its potential for improving the human condition.

Quite to the contrary, funding for fundamental research has been dropping in India; translational support is limited to areas of study that can “save lives” and are in line with political goals; and the political perception of science is horribly skewed towards pseudoscience.

Before that one commentator jumps in to say things aren’t all that bad: I agree. There are some pockets of good work. I am personally excited about Indian researchers’ contributions to materials science, solid-state and condensed-matter physics, biochemistry, and experimental astronomy.

However, the fact remains that we are very far from things being as they should be, and not as political expediency needs them to be. And repeatedly using “science” when in fact we really mean “technology” could keep us form noticing that. That is, if we were mindful of the difference and used the words appropriately, I bet the word “science” would only occasionally appear on our timelines and news feeds.