Anti-softening science for the state

The group of ministers (GoM) report on "government communication" has recommended that the government promote “soft topics” in the media like “yoga” and “tigers”. We can only speculate what this means, and that shouldn’t be hard. The overall spirit of the document is insecurity and paranoia, manifested as fantasies of reining in the country’s independent…

Magic bridges

The last two episodes of the second season of House, the TV series starring Hugh Laurie as a misanthropic doctor at a facility in Princeton, have been playing on my mind off and on during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of its principal points (insofar as Dr Gregory House can admit points to the story of his…

What the DNA Bill needs

An artistic illustration of multiple DNA double-helices flowing side by side.

The following article has been published in The Wire, but since it began as a blog post and because I haven't published anything else in a while, I'm using it here as well. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on S&T, Forests and Climate Change has submitted its review on the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation…

Pandemic: Science > politics?

set of medical syringes filled with medication on pink desk

By Mukunth and Madhusudhan Raman Former Union health secretary K. Sujatha Rao had a great piece in The Indian Express on January 14, whose takeaway she summarised in the following line: Science, evidence and data analytics need to be the bedrock of the roll-out policy, not politics and scoring brownie points for electoral advantages. However,…

Poverty, psychology and pseudoscience

From the abstract of 'Why Do People Stay Poor? Evidence on Poverty Traps from Rural Bangladesh', November 24, 2020: There are two broad views as to why people stay poor. One emphasizes differences in fundamentals, such as ability, talent or motivation. The other, poverty traps view, differences in opportunities stemming from differences in wealth. We…

“Enough science.”

Edit, 6.04 pm, December 15, 2020: A reader pointed out to me that The Guardian may in fact have been joking, and it has been known to be flippant on occasion. If this is really the case, I pronounce myself half-embarrassed for having been unable to spot a joke. But only half because it seems…

Science prizes, wealth location and social signals

One count on which I almost always find myself to be an outlier in India is my opinion that the Nobel Prizes and their derivatives belong in the gutter. But while many people in other countries share this opinion of the Nobel Prizes, and often put their weight behind advancing this view, there are very…

The thing about π

Consider the following setup, from the game 'Factorio', the game about factory management and automation: There are two factories visible in this image – the two rectangular, green-walled buildings. Take the one on the left: it's manufacturing electric furnaces, with steel plates, stone bricks and advanced circuits as ingredients. These three resources are visible on…

The forgotten first lives of India’s fauna

Two juvenile purple frogs rest on wet soil dotted with tiny green leaves.

https://twitter.com/TheHinduScience/status/1327211745677545472 Prof. Biju said the Rohanixalus is the 20th recognised genus of the family Rhacophoridae that comprises 422 known Old World tree frog species found in Asia and Africa. He said there are eight frog species in this genus Rohanixalus, which are known to inhabit forested as well as human-dominated landscapes right from the northeast,…

Super-spreading, mobility and crowding

I still see quite a few journalists in India refer to "super-spreaders" vis-à-vis the novel coronavirus – implying that some individuals might be to blame for ‘seeding’ lots of new infections in the community – instead of accommodating the fact that simply breathing out a lot of viruses doesn’t suffice to infect tens or hundreds…

On resource constraints and merit

In the face of complaints about how so few women have been awarded this year’s Swarnajayanti Fellowships in India, some scientists pushed back asking which of the male laureates who had been selected should have been left out instead. This is a version of the merit argument commonly applied to demands for reservation and quota in higher…

Trump, science denial and violence

For a few days last week, before the mail-in votes had been counted in the US, the contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump seemed set for a nail-biting finish. In this time a lot of people expressed disappointment on Twitter that nearly half of all Americans who had voted (Trump’s share of the popular…