Authority, authoritarianism and a scicomm paradox

I received a sharp reminder to better distinguish between activists and experts irrespective of how right the activists appear to be with the case of Ustad, that tiger shifted from its original habitat in Ranthambore sanctuary to Sajjangarh Zoo in 2015 after it killed three people. Local officials were in favour of the relocation to…

Hard sci-fi

Come November, I will be at the Bangalore Literary Festival in conversation with Sri Lankan sci-fi author Navin Weeraratne. I am told Navin – "like you," according to one of the organisers – is a proponent of hard sci-fi, the science fiction subgenre that draws upon legitimate scientific ideas and principles. A less obsessive reader…

The mission that was 110% successful

Caution: Satire. On October 2, Kailash S., the chairman of the Indian Wonderful Research Organisation (IWRO), announced that the Moonyaan mission had become a 110% success. At an impromptu press conference organised inside the offices of India Day Before Yesterday, he said that the orbiter was performing exceptionally well and that a focus on its secondary…

Fortitude

A part of a castle under a deep blue sky as seen through a small window on a black wall.

What's the point of sweating to compose a good argument when the reader doesn't exist who will rebut it instead of nosing around to figure out who penned it and going after them instead? This is a question worth asking but the answer is even more important. When faced with an audience addicted to ad…

The alleged politicisation of science

People at a rally in Gwalior, 2007. Credit: Ekta Parishad/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

"Don't politicise X" has become the defence of choice for a class of scientists and public intellectuals in India whose class and caste privilege utterly blinds them to various inequities in the practice of science – as privilege is wont to do – and who labour with the presumption that these inequities, should they miraculously…

Good writing is an atom

A metallic sculpture of a set of large orbs connected by slender rods, resembling a cube.

https://twitter.com/HochTwit/status/1174875013708746752 The act of writing well is like an atom, or the universe. There is matter but it is thinly distributed, with lots of empty space in between. Removing this seeming nothingness won't help, however. Its presence is necessary for things to remain the way they are and work just as well. Similarly, writing is…

Chandrayaan 2 and the Left

An arrow pointing to the left on a surface painted red on the left side. Credit: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash

Since after September 7, when the Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan 2 mission failed to touchdown on the lunar surface, many writers and thinkers on the political left have been adopting a stance of the mission I find hard to stomach. Their arguments can be summed up thus: that CY-2's mission is half-assed and should…

Scientific fact? Not good enough to be true.

Last week in India: Two scientists who coauthored two papers, along with many others from India as well as abroad, have spoken out against the conclusions of those papers even as they refused to distance themselves from their findings. As bizarre as this sounds, it may have happened because the two scientists were not prepared…

The fight over ISRO

My report about ISRO's '90-95%' success claim vis-à-vis Chandrayaan 2 had precisely three kinds of response, split 49%, 49% and 2%. One 49% group went like this: The other 49% went like this: The remainder, which constituted meaningful engagement, was virtually residual. To add to this, K. Sivan has brought a new thing about him…

Toppling Epstein’s intellectuals network

A photograph of Jeffrey Epstein in 1980. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

While there have been no other high-profile exits from the MIT Media Lab after Ethan Zuckerman and J. Nathan Matias submitted their resignations, the lab’s students had been demanding its director Joi Ito to resign over his ties with Epstein. While it is ridiculous that Ito pled ignorance in his August 15 note where he admitted he…

Fog of war

August 2019 was a crappy month. I’m just emerging from nasty fevers of the body and mind and haven’t fully recovered yet. I’ve become more cynical in the last few weeks – which I didn’t think was possible – and the level of baseline depression has increased; simply contemplating the monotony of daily life has…