NEWS LAUNDRY | Science for the aam aadmi and the Arnabs of TV news

“An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.”

With a society that produces tens of thousands of engineers and medical personnel in just one year, one would imagine a utopian screenplay in our television news debates — panelists arguing about how 3D printers could be applied in empowering our farmers, or discussions on how investment in space helps national security. If scientific facts are ever mentioned on TV, it’s usually as part of a political witch-hunt. “Yoga can cure homosexuals”, “Ganapati was the first transplant”, “Science can be done for cheap”.

Are we the people, the aam aadmi, inherently ignorant about science, and our TV news just a reflection of that? Or have our 24/7 TV news channels, in their quest to pump TRP, failed to notice some of the greatest scientific achievements emerging from our country? Like very recently, Indian researchers helped prove Einstein right after 100 years by detecting collision of black holes 130 crore years away from earth, which is also the most energetic event recorded by mankind. Neither did our news channels notice that an Indian physicist was the first to calculate such a phenomenon 46 years ago. (I should acknowledge that print and digitalnews in India did a relatively better coverage of the recent science breakthrough. Times Now put up a congratulatory note on their Facebook page for which I am eternally thankful & still counting astronomical ‘likes’.) For further impetus in this field of research, government approved (and echoed it in Mann Ki Baat) a Rs 1,200 crore detector, which may shape the fate of science in modern India. This was a perfect script to create hysteria for a good cause.

Let me show you the real darkness. It’s the whole of Indian TV news media today, which resides inside this big black hole. And it has swallowed all of us in it.

Our 24/7 TV news channels have teams qualified to create hysteria about every category of information that shapes our society. Or at least that’s what we are told. Yet science gets no screen time on television. It is already in school textbooks. Why does it need to be on TV?

Here is a ‘turing test’ for our news anchors: how have you managed to convince your children to concentrate on science and mathematics in schools, but kept the prime space of discussion in your newsroom completely devoid of it? Is it that the work produced in our science and educational research institutions is worth a public attention only through their press releases? The nation wants to know.

If you really want to highlight the political hypocrisy of an issue concerning fate of the nation, ask IIT graduate leaders, the Left-leaning elite, research scholars, and the Right-wing promoters of fake science what they did to promote India’s role in big scientific breakthroughs. Excluding the prime minister, show me one national leader or one ministry that even acknowledges the role of Indian scientists or has heard of our plans on mega-science projects.

This article is an appeal to the Arnabs, Sardesais, Dutts, Kumars, Chaudhrys et al. out there, the crazy ones, the non-Doordarshan-ers, the ones “Putting Journalism First” but forgetting scientists when compiling their “Indians of The Year”, the ones who have no respect for the status quo, except when it comes to the state of science education. With the Indian contribution to the historic discovery of gravitational waves (if not just for National Science Day), you have got one last excuse to channel a slice of your hyper news coverage towards promoting scientific temper.

So, make weekly programmes on the life of living scientists. Tell the world that India is not just about yoga, Goa and vibrant colours. We also ‘Discover (in) India’ and we do it like a boss. And the reason we invest in science is to make sure our country as a whole progresses in every sphere and moves towards a societal equality. An equality which is based not on ideological spectrum of Left and Right, but based on scientific knowledge and technical expertise. The India of tomorrow is being shaped by many scientists in research labs in your very cities. Regardless of darkness all around, it is they who are quietly extending the arenas of human knowledge, without ever being acknowledged by aam aadmis or Arnabs [2].

So repeat after me, #IStandOnlyWithScience.

 

***

 

[1] Background image modified from SXS simulation of black hole collision

[2] The author will like to clarify the usage of ‘Arnab’ here is used as a noun referred to Indian TV journos and not the individual person. Also, unlike other networks Times Now at least made an attempt to trend #EinsteinWasBangOn

 

The author can be contacted on Twitter @AstroKPJ

ColumnsDikssha Dinesh