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Monday, March 2, 2009

India Celebrates National Science Day

FROM V.V. RAMAN, EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS AND HUMANITIES AT THE ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: While a handful of thinkers in the Hindu world debate the right planetary and zodiacal configurations on which to celebrate the birthdays of divinities and other festivals, India also observes National Science Day on February 28 (Gregorian calendar). Started a little more than two decades ago (1986), it is a day that inaugurates a whole month of science-related and science-inspiring activities, and also awards prizes for the best science-popularization efforts in magazines, newspapers, lectures, and books.
Most importantly, the goal of Science Day is to raise science-consciousness among the masses, gradually weaning them away from outworn beliefs, silly superstitions, and a general fear of what science is all about. People are encouraged to watch the skies, locate stars and planets, do experiments, and read science books.
We live at a time when, contrary to earlier hopes and expectations, science has come to be marginalized in the minds of many. The general public has been led to believe that science is just another way of describing the moon or appreciating the rainbow, and has no greater claims to knowledge than mythology, religious revelations, grand poetry, or speculative philosophy. Science is often seen by the public as no more than a tool for games and gadgetry, medical technology, washing machines, and creature comforts. Then again, some zealous scientists, by degrading the religious dimension of the human condition, have created the impression that science is derisively religion-unfriendly and therefore more dangerous than desirable for human culture.
What needs to be emphasized is that the deeper essence of science expands our minds, enhances our appreciation of the world, and uplifts our spirit. These aspects must be reinforced periodically in science courses and through public proclamations like Science Day.
Perhaps the United Nations should follow India’s lead in this regard and declare a whole Science Month in all countries.