Science panic in India, a year later

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 31, 2007

A year ago I wrote here on the Asiatech blog about worries among Indian policymakers and academics that, despite the achievements of the country’s IT and drugmaking companies, the country was falling far behind other Asian countries in basic science. After pointing out the growth among universities in China, I finished up the post with this: “Expect the anxiety level in India to keep rising.” A year later, what’s changed? The Indian economy is still humming, India’s software and pharma companies are still expanding, and Indian scientists are still bemoaning the sorry state of Indian science.

Consider this story from the Times of India, entitled “Pure sciences- the last priority?” The story (without a byline, at least on the online version) says that CNR Rao, the scientific advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whom I wrote about in my post last year, predicts that Indian science “will be in a dismal state in the next five years, with only a few science universities and a handful of scientists remaining.” Another example: This story in the Hindustan Times. “[The] Majority of India’s scientific and research institutions are stagnant and on ‘life support systems’ due to lack of vigorous faculty recruitment and insufficient funding, a top scientist said. And it’s a matter of concern that many of them were collectively ageing, no longer being attractive for students, and India’s academic community needs to introspect looking for reasons for the slide, said Indian Institute of Science Bangalore Director Prof P Balaram.”

I know there are readers who complain that I spend too much time comparing India to China, but I’m not the only one. According to the Times, so does Rao. “Rao pointed out that India’s performance in basic sciences had dwindled markedly both in terms of percentage of continuation to world science and percentage of high quality research papers. While China’s contribution to world science stands at 12 per cent, India lags behind with a mere three per cent and the number of high impact papers from India is less than one per cent.” (I confess, I’m not quite sure what the writer here means, but I’m guessing that the 12% number refers to the number of Chinese scientific papers published internationally as a percentage of the total, and the 3% for number of Indian papers. If anyone has a better guess, though, please let me know.) It’s not just China, though. According to the Times, Rao “added that even smaller countries such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have become global players and overtaken India.”

It’s possible that Rao, Balaram and other Indian scientists are seriously misreading the situation. After all, India’s enjoying very impressive economic growth, multinationals continue to send more and more of their outsourcing work to India, and Indian scientists are making progress in fields like biotech every day. According to many measurements, India’s tech level is just fine, thank you very much. But Rao, Balaram and others seem to be arguing that there’s a danger that Indian policymakers are complacent and are ignoring the sort of long-term investments in science that many other Asian countries are making. In the past 12 months, the anxiety level has not gone down. The question is, another year from now, will the situation have gotten any better?

Reader Comments

lili.chen

August 2, 2007 11:16 PM

I really enjoy your article.But here is a mistake, Taiwan is not a country,it is one part of China.

Your original:Rao “added that even smaller countries such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have become global players and overtaken India.”

yao ming

August 3, 2007 3:31 AM

this is in response to lili chen about taiwan being a part of china.I would like to remind that a taiwan is a seperate democratic country unlike the repressive communist china ,economic growth not withsatanding.It's the wishes of taiwanese people that's prominent not what china thinks taiwanese people should have.

vk

August 3, 2007 4:10 AM

agree with "yao ming"...taiwan is a soverign country and so is tibet...china cant be a bully for ever..its going to fall which will be more incredible than ussr ..and back to the actual topic..yes even if somebody doesnt compare india and china's scientific researches..i'll have to admit the level of r&d and product development in india is absymally low..majorly bcoz successive govts for past 60 years have tried to keep the ppl in a zombie state..those who show even some sort of intelligence are forced to leave the country...sad state indeed!!

Chinese

August 3, 2007 7:29 AM

Countries around the world regards Taiwan as a part of China. Taiwan's government and law regards itself part of China, just who is the central government is in debate here since civil war ended with current situation. Taiwan government never declared independence away from the whole China scheme. So individual selfishness and shallowness doesn't really work in front of majority of Chinese people, government and the law.

BABU

August 3, 2007 12:03 PM

Bruce, You are sick Man. China is better than India agreed. US is better than India for 100 years. So what. India is growing. Thats enough.Yesterday and todays super power America. Tommorrow super power China. But for how long. 50-100years. Then another nation will come. Cut your crap. China has its own way of grwoing. India has its own way of growing. America has it is own.If all the humans in the world get a decent shetler, food, clothing and basic amenities then nothing else needed. Grow up bruce. Stop your sick articles.

YinduAsan

August 4, 2007 9:04 AM

Taiwan is the name of a province of China. No question that there are people in Taiwan who are tring to create a Republic of Taiwan. But, Republic of Taiwan does not exist yet.

bruce the sicko

August 6, 2007 7:55 PM

Bruce is a sicko, this article serves 2 purposes, one India vs China, second is Taiwan vs China.

nicknguyen

August 15, 2007 3:17 PM

Most commentators on BW are arguing that the physical infrastructure, caste system, inter-caste discrimination, intra-caste in-breed and the resource constraints are the most daunting obstacles for India’s world power dream. Well, I have to say that the most important factor that will prevent India from moving out of 3rd world status is the population infrastructure. I recommend BW reader and MNC read the landmark book “IQ and the Wealth of Nations” that is of utmost implication for a nation’s growth potential. These are not some trivial stats from some random tests. The data are based upon tens of thousands of surveys, test and publications over 2 decades. The main finding is that a nation’s growth potential and ROI of investment is closely correlated to the average IQ of that nation. Authors of “IQ and Wealth of Nations” have identified 75%+ correlation based upon decades of facts compilation. After digesting the info of this book, you will easily find out why India is what she is today even with rich heritage of British democracy, market economy and English language. What at stake here is your long term ROI. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ_and_the_Wealth_of_Nations)

Kesav

September 6, 2007 6:10 AM

Mr. Bruce,

In India, for last three decades, the science became handicapped, as many students choosing Engineering and Technology are favorite subjects from 70's and then 90's Business Management also added as favorite subjects, as they will get jobs very easy and lucrative income. More and more students moved to software industry, even they studied Sciences at Undergraduate and graduate level. For Science graduates or Doctorates, there are very few job opportunities, compare with their counterparts. This is the reason why many students don't show any interest on Basic Sciences. Its the responsible of the Government and Scientific community to attract the students into Basic Science.

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