Countering pseudoscience – UPSC GS3

Instances of pseudoscience propagation:
  • Many speakers at the 102nd Indian Science Congress which was held in 2015 proposed unscientific facts. They argued that ancient ‘Bharat’ was a repository of all modern knowledge, some of which is yet to be invented in this century.
  • A prominent public figure said that DNA of all the people in India has been the same for 40,000 years. His message clearly goes against the proven fact that Indians have mixed genetic lineages originating from Africa, the Mediterranean, and Eurasian steppes.
  • –IIT Kharagpur has issued a 2022 calendar. The purpose of it is to argue for a Vedic cultural foundation for the Indus Valley Civilisation, a theory that goes against all the available evidence.
What are the implications of such incidents on the society?  
  • They encourage intolerance and superstition. 
  • Endangers Freedom of thought: For the creation of knowledge, all stakeholders should be able to think and express themselves freely. One also needs to have a space for dissent, which is a fundamental requirement for democracies to thrive.
  • Pseudoscience provides a foundational base for a huge money-making industry that successfully help sustain quackery by exploiting the people’s ignorance. Example: Cow products to cure COVID-19.
What are the reasons for the lack of any opposition in scientific community? 
  • Scientific research relies almost entirely on funding from the government, this makes dissent difficult.
  • Contemporary science researchers remain entirely cut off from liberal intellectual discourse, unlike in the initial years after Independence. In the early 20th century, many leading scientists were deeply engaged with philosophy and always thought that how science will affect society. They were much more proactive about societal issues.
  • Globally, STEM students demonstrate less social concern than students from other streams. The is because of the pedagogy followed in our science education system. For many of them, exposure to the social sciences is minimal at university.
  • We are also living at a time when scientific advice is marginalised in public policy debates ranging from natural resource use to environmental impacts.
Way forward:
Science education must include pedagogical inputs that help learners take a stand against false theories that could undermine progress of society and democratic structures.
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