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ISRO has Modi support. If all projects succeed, it only shows bar isn’t high: IIT-D director

Media should divert its attention from ISRO. It will do ISRO and the nation a lot of good.

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So happy to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi consoling the ISRO scientists. This sight will always be etched in my memory. It also means a lot for the entire scientific community to know that there is support at the highest levels when things don’t seem to go well. This is a very positive sign for Indian science and scientists.

However, if I were a scientist in ISRO, I would be a bit of a worried person for the following reasons.

1. Scientists cannot work under so much of media glare. It distracts them and makes them lose focus. These activities need 100 per cent focus.

2. It causes inter-personal problems in the organisations. When success (or failure) gets so glorified, who gets the credit (or the blame) becomes an issue. It can alter the work culture in organisations for worse.

3. We know that failure rates are going to be invariably high in space programmes. You test things on earth and expect them to work in space. The younger generation and the public in general may not appreciate frequent failures and may start to question the whole purpose of taking up such missions.

4. It may hamper ISRO’s ability to take up risky projects and launch complex missions, which may have a higher rate of failure.

5. All communications are wireless. There is always a chance for sabotage. No wireless system can be made fully secure.

Let’s celebrate the outcomes publicly, but only after the event has concluded. Raising the public expectations too much for such complex missions, before and during the event, can be counter-productive in the long run. No scientific project can be designed to succeed. We can only plan for fewer failures. Also, if all our projects succeed, it only means that we are not choosing the right projects and not keeping the bar high.

If we want to celebrate science, there is so much happening in other institutions, too. DRDO, DAE, IITs, IISc and many of our premier institutions are no less successful. Media should divert its attention from ISRO a bit. It will do ISRO and the nation a lot of good.

Also read: Chandrayaan-2 orbiter has a task cut out as ISRO tries to re-establish contact with Vikram

The author is Director, IIT-Delhi.

This article has been reproduced from his Facebook post. Views are personal.

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  1. A good advice to the media. However, to popularize science and scientific temper, publicity is required but any media coverage will have its usual consequences. However, as PM clearly said, science is just continuous experimentation and measurement and success or failure is a side effect. PM showed remarkable sense of maturity and poise while dealing with the real time situation. ISRO should continue its work unaffected and set expectations very clearly right in the beginning that failure is a part of the journey and every failure leads to learning and next steps. With Gaganyan in 2022, stakes are very high as two Indians will be sent up and brought back from the space. If there is any mishap there, it will have serious implications. We will need to build a proper climate of expectations and not popular jingoism for the mission. If there is any doubt, the mission should be postponed. A few years of delay is not an issue in the long journey of ISRO. No political considerations should have any role in the mission. DRDO can have a go at hyper sonic or radiation seeking missiles or any other new technology demonstration for the political effect.

  2. Media coverage has both pros and cons BUT i think to inspire young ones and motivate them a detailed media coverage is essential. ISRO scientists getting distracted by the media coverage shows lack of professionalism in the institution. No institution can survive in the democracy without public scrutiny. However this does’nt mean that some media outlets become flag bearers of public opinion.. ex NDTV. India needs a vibrant scientific community with high threshold of scientific temper. We have a rich ancient history of science and tech, some things are inevitable and India will prosper in those

  3. I agree partially.Media also needs to highlight success of of projects at other insitutions such as IITs, DRDO etc. Media focus/ films etc play a crucial role in motivating our students in joining the next generation of scientists/engineers at these institutes . Therefore media focus does play an important role.

  4. Only a person who is jealous of ISRO’s success would advise like this. V RAMGOPAL RAO’s formula for scientific success seems to work in a dark corner and expect great focus will bring success. If that is the case why IIT’s research track record has been no where near International standards. Contrary to what V RAMGOPAL RAO thinks, media exposure will motivate not only scientists and engineers as their work gets recognition bust also the youths who will lead India tomorrow. Slow scientific growth in India has been due the type of mind set that V RAMGOPAL RAO seems to have. V RAMGOPAL RAO’s prescription may fit well with Congress style of governance but not with Modi’s style of governance. It’s time to replace such people like V RAMGOPAL RAO heading important Indian institutions and give way to new generation.

  5. As with so much else nowadays, one swathe of the media coverage was cringeworthy. Tiranga on the Moon. 1.3 billion Indians having a collective orgasm. Snap out of it, folks. This was a scientific endeavour. As with all the other good work ISRO and AEC do, there is always a payoff for the strategic programme as well. There will be a few misses, along with the many hits. Let the scientists work through all the data, they will locate the glitch, overcome it, leading to the next mission being flawless.

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