Green movements and public perception of science


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From being seen as the panacea to all ills, scientific advances are today being seen by many as an alien legacy or a partial cure at best. Though science is still respected by many, there is a tendency to discard much of what scientists say in fields like GM crops, and other technology, even while accepting the dire prognosis made by climate scientists. How did this choice come into being. T V Venkateswaran probes these questions in an article that explores the evolution of ideas pertaining to science and the people.

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The triumphalist story of modern science has many sides. Going back to the days of Galileo and Copernicus, the  manner in which ascendancy of human rationality over the dogma and faith emphasised emerging scientific method as a remedy for human ignorance is one such staple tale. Vanquishing evils such as smallpox, rinderpest, diphtheria, bacterial influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, and tetanus is another narrative. The world population has multiplied about eleven times since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1750s. According to an estimate, even today, about 815 million people regularly go to bed hungry around the world. Nevertheless, due to modern science and technology, according to FAO, we grow about 1.5 times the world food requirement. The root causes of food insecurity and malnutrition are poverty and inequity rather than shortages. The role of S&T in eradicating hunger is yet another dimension to be thought about.

Coming out of the shadows of colonial exploitation and suffering from ‘underdevelopment’, for a newly independent country like India, science and technology offered tantalising possibilities. “For everything in this world, for wealth, for the soul, for life, for success, the truest guide is science. To seek guidance in other things is heedlessness, ignorance, and deviation from the right path”, said Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. “It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, or a rich country inhabited by starving people… Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn, we have to seek its aid… The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science.” declared Jawaharlal Nehru. So did leaders of most newly independent colonial countries.

Nevertheless, there are dark aspects of the story. Modern science played handmaiden to colonialism by reifying the race and colonial prejudice. New inventions, such as the electric bulb, far from making the life of the majority brighter, aided and assisted capitalism in exploiting more. Production hours were extended, and the workers were robbed even of  sleep. Development in communications and transport enabled razing of forest in India and Southeast Asia to fuel the expansion of railways in Europe.  The technological developments sustained the Satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution. Modern irrigation facilities enabled more production but also consolidated  rural assets to be held by  fewer hands. Developments in modern medicine cured dreaded diseases but also became playfield of big pharma corporates.  Indeed science and technology had the power to alleviate poverty, reduce drudgery, make a dignified living. However, in the hands of capitalism and colonialism, what resulted was misery and hardship. The environmental movements that emerged in the 1960s were located in this fissure.


Beginnings of environmental movement in India

In India, since the 1970s, along with growth and development, rapid deterioration of the natural world and human living environment was witnessed. The impact of  unrestrained industrialisation was becoming visible. Naturally, social movements fighting for equity and social justice were concerned about the deteriorating and appalling living condition that is being engendered. Ecology was also an emerging discipline. Observing the rise of this new consciousness, Anil Agarwal cheerfully wrote in 1984-85 “Newspapers give prominent display to environmental horror stories. Editorials demand better management of natural resources. Government statements on the need to preserve the environment are now commonplace. There are new laws for the control of air and water pollution and the conservation of forests… Party documents and party manifesto take care to mention the importance of environment…”

When ecology was emerging into a discipline and being institutionalised within academia, the first generation of professional ecologists almost without exception had a close connection with movements on the ground. The dirtying of river water, smells and shoot cover over the living area were visible, and these became triggers for environmental consciousness. Further, thanks to the scientific studies, the looming dangers of air pollution, groundwater depletion, damage to the ozone layer, climate crisis and global heating came to light. Even while the public intellectuals doubted a particular claim, suspected a specific institution, or were wary of the corporate or government influence, ‘science’ as an institution and methodology was held mainly trust. However, there were notable dissenters.

In the public psyche, all these changed with the Bhopal disaster. Hiding behind the garb of confidentiality even the meteorological data on wind speeds and direction, so central to any attempt at computing the numbers likely to be affected by the MIC, was not made public by any agency. No serious attempt was made by any institution to test samples such as water, plant life, food, and so on to assess the damage caused by the leak. In the absence of scientific data, experiential, anecdotal evidence of the people and authoritative assertions of the ‘experts’ only remained making it impossible to have a real scientific approach to handling aftermath of the disaster.  Public confidence in the autonomy of science institutions came under question.

“The Bhopal disaster has stunned those responsible for pollution control, and put fear in the hearts of millions of industrial workers and people living near factories. However, Bhopal is not the only disaster; subtle and invisible processes continue to undermine human and natural resource base…. Satellite data has confirmed that India is indeed losing more than a million hectares of forest every year, something that forest departments have consistently and perversely sought to deny. All our hill and mountain eco-systems, the cradles of our life-giving rivers are deteriorating rapidly. Even in heavy rainfall areas where forests should be in full bloom, the land is becoming a barren desert. Every day, thousands of hectares of India’s  rich biosphere slide into a vast wasteland; the only difference is that today the word ‘wasteland’ has become part of official vocabulary Environmental degradation threatens every Indian” said a joint statement issued by environmental activists three years after the Bhopal disaster. It was a fundamental turning point that exposed the inability of the State to handle a major industrial disaster. A fundamental rupture emerged between scientific institutions (including ecology departments) and green grassroots movements.

Several environmental movements emerged in this period. Some saw the seeds of environmental destruction in the application of modern science and technology emphasised the ‘traditional’ knowledge systems and their interactions with ‘modernity’. Organisations like Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP) noted that the abuse of science and technology leads to human misery and environmental degradation. Organisations like the Center for Science and Environment viewed the need to articulate policies and laws and work as a watchdog. A few others campaigned for the preservation of ‘beautiful scenery and charismatic species’. While a plethora of movements abound in India, two are significant for their reach and influence on the larger psyche.


Peoples science movements (PSMs)

The grassroots struggles like the Silent Valley agitation, Chipko movement, and several local-level struggles related to air and water pollution laid the foundation for the emergence of environmental struggle under the aegis of PSMs. The movements were also worried about the global environmental crisis, such as ozone layer depletion.  In addition to the deterioration of living space (contamination of drinking water sources), occupational health  (e.g.;  silicosis, asbestosis) was, for example,  a primary concern of the environmental movements.

The gaze of these  peoples science movements (PSMs for short), exemplified by Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP), Chipko movements and so on, were focused on the places where we live, work, learn, and play, be it natural spaces such as a forest or an artificial territory such as a factory. These movements, premised on the concerns of an equitable and just society, argued for the use of science and technology for the betterment of the majority and underprivileged.

Inspired by the tradition set in by J. D. Bernal, scholars from this genre, extended his analysis of ‘science and society’ to examine the roots of environmental crisis. Marx famously noted, “…all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility.” He saw the capitalist system thrived only by the exploitation of soil and labour. Here, the soil was a metaphor for ‘natural resources’. There is no intrinsic value to natural resources in the market, but only the rent associated (exchange value, market) with such resources. Thus all commons, be it air, water, are exploited unmindful of longer-term consequences. Nevertheless, in a social system, if the State intervenes to punish those who, say, pollute and favour those who do not, smelling the profit, industries may run towards less-polluting routes and concomitantly cleaning up pollution will itself emerge as a profitable business.  However, the Marxists point out that in the logic of the market, the vicious cycle of pollution is not severed, and the overall load of pollution does not reduce.

Capitalism’s insatiable hunger for profit (not growth per se) is seen as the central font of the environmental crisis, and the remedy was seen to lie in replacing the capitalist system with a more equitable and just society. Indeed, such a society where the wants of all people are equitably and justly satisfied implied a need for  more advanced science and technology and not less. Those rooted in working-class politics, saw the advancement of science and technology as an essential aspect of building a sustainable socialist future.  The struggle for empowering workers, protecting public health, and preserving landscapes was seen as part of a single effort for attaining economic and social justice. The imagined future in this strand of environmental movement had a prime place for science and technology.

While agreeing with all growth is not progress, these movements seek to have a development of all sections of the society, with environmentally sound production, distribution and consumption. Building such a society calls for more advanced science and technology and not less. Thus, these movements oppose GMOs because they promote corporatisation of agriculture which leads to both destruction of the environment as well as the exploitation of small and marginal farmers, but not the technology as such. Pointing out that the divide between poor and rich countries in the world can also be roughly mapped into another kind of division – that between gene- or biodiversity-rich countries and patent-rich countries, the PSMs argue that the real debate is on who controls the technology. As a preserve of giant transnational corporations, GM technologies have the potential to transform the very nature of agriculture, especially in developing countries such as India, in a manner that is detrimental to small and marginal farmers. Further, the concern they eschew is how the public-funded research system in India is increasingly made subservient to the needs of private corporations, many of them foreign-owned. They argue that if India wishes to take advantage of advances in science and technology, they have to be based on local needs and need to be backed up by indigenous efforts at developing technologies.

Today the movements for an equitable and just society rooted in working-class politics are not the ideologically dominant among the green movements. Their voices have become feeble and do not command the following they used to earlier. However, they are among the most active grassroots movements even today.


The new green movements

Displacing the PSMs, increasingly ‘Science/development/violence’ genre (hereafter, SDV) movements are seen at the centre stage in the environmental debates in recent times. Although comprising various shades of thoughts, they are united in seeing modern science as a ‘western project’, asserting a systemic relationship between vivisection and the scientific project, on the one hand, and between triage and development theory, on the other.  They further foregrounded the interaction of the ‘traditional’ knowledge systems and ‘modernity’ (and modern science) and construed an incommensurable chasm between the ‘Indic’ civilizational ethos and ‘modern Western science’.

The foundations of the ideology of SDV movements were laid in the 1980s. The philosophical and ideological underpinnings that originated in the writings of a diverse set of people and groups such as Patriotic and People-Oriented Science and Technology Group (PPST), Claude Alvares, Dharampal and Ashis Nandy remained polemical with hardly any substantial ground-level action. They were inspired by the then-emerging ‘social turn’ in the science, technology and society studies.

Until the late 1980s, SDV was more of an ideological trend among the intellectuals with very little grassroots following. Two important events, one intellectual and other historical, gave a boost to these movements. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s paved the way for the ascendancy of neoliberal ideology. The ‘postmodern turn’ in the social studies of science pulled the rug from under the feet of  science.

Critique of a specific institution of science or a specific claim of a scientist not standing scrutiny, or even a whole discipline, say phrenology being discredited is not new. As a human endeavour, like any other, science is fallible and influenced by prejudices. However, the normative objective of the enterprise of science was considered  to be  ‘objectivity’. The social turn and ‘postmodern’ philosophies questioned fundamental ontological and epistemological groundings of science.

Some ideas fabricated by humans are social constructs. The biases of the scientific workers in a field can influence the conclusions arrived at. Many times, if we fail to be adequately self -reflective, we see what we want to see, in particular, in areas where ideology plays an important part. Nevertheless, postmodernism went further and claimed that all entities and explanations of modern science are ‘socially constructed’. French philosopher Bruno Latour ridiculed as anachronistic archaeologists who concluded that Rameses II died of tuberculosis. How could he have died of a bacillus discovered in 1882 and of a disease whose aetiology, in its modern form, dates only from 1819? For postmodern philosophers, Koch did not discover hitherto unknown and unseen, but objectively pre-existing bacillus, as ‘common sense’ would warrant. His ‘discovery’ and ‘explanation’ is akin to the explanations given by ancient societies invoking faeries and spirits for a disease. In this view, the ‘belief’ that electron has a charge is just like the claim that ‘gemstones’ emit ‘charm rays’. For scientists, nitrogen is nitrogen, but under the postmodern frame, food grown from organic manure may have an exceptional ‘power’, which plants grown from ‘artificial fertilisers’ may lack. Both are just stories that are socially constructed, and there is nothing that privileges modern science over the ‘traditional beliefs’.  One of the ‘green’ protagonists asserted in the same vein, ‘natural neutrinos are harmless; ok, however, how do you know that neutrinos produced artificially from ‘neutrino factories’ are harmless?’.

Most of the strands in the SDV movements in India are strong ‘nativists’. Before the arrival of modernity (and capitalism), humans (at least ‘Indic’ civilisation) were living in harmony with nature. The serene ‘garden of Eden’, which we should have acclaimed and emulated, was poisoned, when the Industrial revolution (for some even the advent of agriculture) tempted us to ‘contaminate’ sacred nature with the ‘artificial’. The craving of  modernity to control nature – ‘controlling’ virus with vaccination, rivers with dams, for example – created a friction between humans and nature; the root cause of violence and environmental crisis. The solution? Shun all that is ‘modern’ or ‘artificial’ and embrace which is ‘traditional’ and ‘natural’.  Degrowth, go ‘organic’, be ‘natural’. While for some it is returned to pre-modern mediaeval times, for others it is going as far back as ‘glorious past’ of Vedas (or Tholkapiyam).

There is another strand that grows from the celebration of ‘other ways of knowing’. Alternate healing, zero budget farming and whatnot. Most of such claims have not even an iota of evidence. But so what? The methodology of modern science is but one way of ‘knowing’; ‘other ways of knowing’ are equally acceptable. There is no way one can ‘rationally’ choose between the two.

Bewitched by the postmodern turn, science is not just seen as a tool that is being misused by the powerful, but power and exploitation as constitutive of the science. Hence the power (or patriarchy and any other prejudice) cannot be disentangled from modern science. Science, or at least individual strands of research, are unwelcome and perhaps even seen as evil. One of the environmentalist protagonists argued that ‘naively you undertake fundamental scientific research on the neutrino. But what you don’t realise is the dangers. All the research in the area of nuclear physics/ particle physics will be used ultimately for making weapons and destructions.’

Beautiful outdoors, wild places, unpolluted pristine nature sans humans are the primary concern in this vision. Urban areas, workplaces and other ‘artificially constructed’ living places of the vast majority of the people are mostly out of sight, in fact, to be denounced and condemned. Consumption has to be reduced, cities have to be razed, and folks returned to romanticized villages. In the binary narrative of ‘nature = good; artificial = bad’, a climate of uncritical romanticism of ‘traditional’ sets in and mobile phones, modern agriculture, vaccines and all of the modern medicine becomes suspect.

By placing the blame for the environmental crisis at everyone’s doorstep, the salvation is projected in individuals voluntarily changing their lifestyle changes. Advocacy of individual efforts, like consuming ‘organic’ products, home remedies, ‘slow’ living, and vociferous opposition to almost every research, in particular research in genetic engineering and so on are the signet of the new green movements in contrast to working-class movements that talked of more ‘social projects’ such as public health, civic improvements and increased consumption of the impoverished.


The emerging third trend

Although we have focused upon two dominant trends, it would be woefully incomplete if the third trend, which is at its nascent stage in India, is not mentioned. Green capitalism; or eco-capitalism. Vociferous articulations can be heard in seminars and think tanks, however, yet to catch the imagination of grassroots movements. Ironically, the arguments are premised upon the analysis of capitalism by Marx. The ultimate goal or purpose of capitalism is not the destruction of habitats, depletion of natural resources or production of destructive technologies for its own sake. Marx made it clear that the exploitation of capitalism is not premised upon the brutality of capitalist individuals. Many of the individual capitalists might be bleeding hearts, loving caring and concerned. The purposefulness of capitalism lies in its constant accumulation of wealth through profit. It is in the pursuit of profit that capitalism capitalises on nature and abuses it. Thus, if a less-polluting production technology is relatively more profitable, the logic of capitalism will demand that the capital flow towards it. However, if it is the opposite, then, whatever be the human and environmental cost, the drive for more profit will prevail.

It has dawned on a section of capitalist ideologues that the business, as usual, is not an option today, and perhaps the end of the road is around the corner. If the trends of exploitation of natural resources and global warming continue in the same manner unchecked, then the material basis for profit-making and wealth accumulation will be eroded irrevocably. Why not use this to leverage environmental protection. Enact laws to punish pollution and reward the ‘clean’. The market will ensure in the long run; only the ‘clean’ industries will survive. These voices are coalescing into eco-capitalism. Green tax, carbon credits and polluter pays are some of its mantras.

There are two crucial impediments for eco-capitalism in India. The ‘free market’ and neoliberal State is anathema to State intervention. Eco-capitalism relies not just on the unregulated market but crucial State intervention. Call for more stringent State regulation appear to be a throwback to Nehruvian era. This is one dilemma.

Further, for eco-capitalism to be feasible, there must be a permissive climate for ‘market place of ideas’, and the State must be seen as an honest and impartial adjudicator. However, in the reality of Indian society,  grassroots movements are under vigorous attack, even legitimate struggles for even implementing various environmental legislation is labelled extremists, and the actors are castigated as Luddite and agents of ‘western imperialism’. Coupled with this, the perceived failure of the State to deliver, increasing gaps between rich and the poor, lived experience of poor legal and administrative implementation, eco-capitalism is not an attractive position.


Technology and lifestyle choices

One must hasten to state that technology critique is not anti-science,  be it GMOs or nuclear power. Even if rigorous risk assessment processes and the possible ways in which the technology may cause harm are identified and their probability estimated, a society may choose not to have a particular technology on other grounds collectively arrived by public reason.  Unlike science, technologies are not given; they are made in drawing boards. Technology shapes the possibilities and shapes the relationship between individuals and social organisations. Technology is political. Hence a particular social group may accept or reject technology. One certainly must not mistake opposition to a particular technology as indication of irrationality.

In a like manner, the call for action for lifestyle changes, or lesser carbon footprint is by itself not regressive. Indeed the current production and consumption, unless compelled by social forces, are mostly unmindful of waste.  Accumulated waste depletes natural resources and pollutes, ultimately leading to an environmental crisis.

Nevertheless, the “environmental classism” in the advocacy for lifestyle change and technology choice must also not be missed. Technologies that provide ‘green living conditions’ for the leisured and affluent may not satisfy the needs of a person toiling in an inhuman working condition. Ensured of clean and safe living spaces, the prosperous, dream of escaping to wild places to feel “ecological” or “natural”. The contradictions between poor people ‘irrationally’ refusing to leave the dirty shanties and slums along the streams and river banks and take up alternate ‘beautiful’ sites far removed from the city, and the urban environmentalist’s appeal to ‘beautify’ and ‘clean’ the cities are well known in any urban area. The vast majority of the poor have little elbow room to make lifestyle choices.


Public Mentalities

Environmental movements try to foment public mindsets, just like all other social movements. From an impressionistic generalisation of the messages circulating on social media, one leads one to conclude that the popular consciousness today is more influenced by the anti-science rubrics of new green movements. ‘Traditional’, ‘organic’, ‘alternate science’ are some of the key buzz words.

Romanticism, the dominant image of the messages, presents the pristine ‘nature’ as a site of awe, wonder, escape, and even spiritual experience of nature sans humans is presented as reverent. In some small measures, as an antidote to the brutish exploitation of natural resources under capitalism, romanticism acts as a bulwark against complete expropriation. However, in the popular consciousness, romantic ‘nativist’ narratives pit ‘natural’ and ‘traditional’ against ‘artificial’ and ‘alien’. A mentality of the deification of ‘natural’ (and traditional) and castigation of ‘artificial’ (and modern) is engendered. Natural farming is better than artificial, natural ingredients are better than synthetic. Of course, vaccination is against nature, and one person  even went so far as to advocate parturition at home rather than at a maternity hospital.

From the perspective of the new green movement, ‘modern science’ (= western science) is inherently anti-nature, violent and if not the main, at least one of the crucial root cause of the ecological crisis.  Second, the methodology of modern science is not universal. There are other ways of knowing. Hence ‘evidence’ and ‘reason’ need not be authorised by modern science and its institutions. This, on the one hand, implies no amount of ‘scientific evidence’ about sticky, tricky areas like nuclear power or GMOs will ever convince people, making the grounds for public reason complicated. On the other, pseudoscientific claims like gemmology, alternative healing, and so on, gain respectability and currency.

Further, when the new green movements equate the pursuit of science with the “death of nature” and, contend that reason has estranged us from the natural world, irrational and neo-Luddite sentiments are bound toarise as consequences. Interestingly, one of the founding ideologues of the new green movement flatteringly wrote an essay titled ‘Science, colonialism and violence, a Luddite view’.

However, the most insidious of the eco-mentalities is a conspiracy theory. Convinced that a secret, omnipotent individual or group for their ulterior motive, covertly control the political and social order, conspiracy theories thwart any attempt for rational discussion. Indeed by giving a name and a face to an otherwise intricate web of impenetrable global systems, conspiracy theories help the ordinary person to make sense of the complex world that is beyond his/her grasp.

As long as the target of conspiracy theories is to claim that humans did not land on Moon or Earth is flat, they are mostly harmless. However the modern-day urban legends include obesity in the society is a plot of sugar lobby; vaccination a ploy to prompt male infertility with an ulterior motive to annihilate a particular minority ethnic or cultural group; chemotherapy and other such cancer treatment are game plan of big-pharma to make money, while the ‘real cause’ of cancer is just a lack of vitamin B 17 which can be set right by eating lots of apricots.


Public perception of science

Has the overwhelming influence of new green movements thrown the Indian public into the lap of anti-science? Surprisingly, at the same time, we can witness overwhelming public trust towards the claims of climate science and scientists, whereas mistrust and cynicism are hallmarks of response to specific areas off technoscience such as GM crops. Barring occasional barbs, public-funded Space research receives adulation while the public reaction to even State-supported nuclear research is often dubious.

The assertion by the climate change scientists under the aegis of IPCC of human-induced global heating and climate crisis is accepted by and large climate change contrarians’ denials have very little purchase. Why the disconnect? Surely public unreason cannot be an explanation. Why do many people trust science when it comes to climate change but not when it comes to, genetic engineering or nuclear power?

Very many survey reports show the Indian people, by and large, are not inimical to science and technology. For example, Kumbh Mela surveys conducted for the past 25 years show a steady increase in the scientific information level among the masses and a perceptible reduction in the prevalence of certain superstitions. The surveys also show the currency of extra-scientific, irrational, mythological ideas in tandem with scientific information. In quotidian life, the ordinary person invokes scientific, rational, irrational, extra-scientific, religious, and other information to rationalise an action. However, collective behaviour is not just the sum of the individual behaviours. It is, as Gauhar Raza points out, ‘a function of historical legacy, cultural value system, economic determinants and political affiliations’ (Raza, 2018).

What do climate scientists stand to gain by faking the data? Conspiracy theory speculates that garnering research funding is the motive. In India, as most of the research is funded by the State, and as obtaining grants has no impact on job security, the logic of conspiracy seems too thin in the Indian context. Maybe the climate scientists are leftist radicals masquerading as objective out to wreak capitalism by denying it its life-giving oxygen- oil, petrol and fossil fuel. In India bogey of socialism is yet to take root, despite decades of neoliberal economic policies. In fact, in popular imagination, socialism still has a sheen.  In Indian psyche, climate scientists are ‘socialist’ they are ‘good guys’ (and girls). Like the Moon landing, Area 51 or Bermuda triangle, for an Indian mind, conspiracy theories associated with climate science are lame, having no material consequence.

However, GM crops being overwhelmingly associated with big- agribusiness, is another story. Big business, particularly after the neoliberal economic policies and emergent crony capitalism, often is found to have of skeletons hidden in the cupboard.  From the willful faking of data on adverse effects by the tobacco industry to recent intentional manipulation of the exhaust fumes test by a famous automobile manufacturer, big business has lied, bribed and twisted the arms of administration. In the popular notion, founded upon such numerous lived experiences, honest big-business is a fairy tale, modern-day superstition. The overwhelming public scepticism of GM crops emerges from the association of the research and development with suspect entities. Mistrust breeds when nuclear power appears to be shrouded in secrecy.

Indeed fertiliser and insecticide lobbies were seen as driving the research agenda of the green revolution. However, as most of the research took place in public-funded institutions, the scientific institutions and scientists were seen as  independent. The public confidence in these institutions remained intact. However, in the recent period,  with public sector agricultural research declining and diminishing, in particular in areas like GM crops, popular perception sees that the direction of research priorities in agriculture is predominantly shaped not by the relative merit of different technologies, but rather the priorities of the private sector. In like manner, confidence in the health care systems in on the wane. Recent controversies and disquiet about the proposed Human Challenge Trials for Vaccine Development are a product of such fears.


What is to be done?

While several factors will influence the public reaction and perception, one of the main factors is the public engagement of scientists and science institution. The call for the scientific institution to open up to the public is seeing increasing purchase. However, the interaction is still framed in what the science communicators call as the ‘deficit model’. Sure enough, the public will know much less than an expert on neutrinos; in this sense, the attempt to present the science in a simple way is welcome. However, dialogue implies understanding concerns beyond understanding scientific principles. Where are the ecologists, chemists, engineers, in the green movements? The public engagement must go beyond the simple ‘popularisation’.

Further, the public image of scientific community builds for itself matters crucially for earning public trust. If the scientific community is seen as silent, subservient to the powerful, say, when pseudoscientific claims are peddled, it does not inspire confidence among the public and the movements.  Often, the State-funded institutions are perceived to be gagged by the ‘government rules’.  Hence, a vibrant scientific community engaging in matters of public importance is an essential requisite.



Raza, G. (2018). 3 Scientific temper and cultural authority of science in India. In Bauer, M. W., Pansegrau, P., & Shukla, R. (Eds.). The Cultural Authority of Science: Comparing Across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Routledge.


T V Venkateswaran, Scientist F, is associated with Vigyan Prasar. He is a science writer, communicator and trainer and conducts the popular Eureka-conversation with Indian scientists, a weekly TV show on RSTV. He also writes regularly in newspapers. 


This article is a part of the Confluence series on Perceiving and Reacting to Science. The other articles in the series can be found here.

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