New Delhi: A group of Indian scientists Wednesday launched a research proposal competition for students focusing on applying scientific scrutiny to pseudoscientific claims, a day after ThePrint reported that Union Science and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has asked ministries to fast-track approval for research projects on indigenous cows and its products.
During an online review meeting Tuesday, Harsh Vardhan pulled up representatives of several ministries over the delay in approving and funding research projects that aim to scientifically validate the uniqueness of indigenous cows and their products under an inter-ministerial funding programme known as ‘Scientific Utilisation Through Research Augmentation Prime Products from Indigenous Cows (SUTRA-PIC)’.
The fresh push for SUTRA-PIC has led to scientists fearing that it may lead to poorly-designed research projects.
“While doing science outreach, we may come across many individuals of the general population, who are ill-informed about the modern scientific process,” the scientists have written in the document announcing the competition.
According to the scientists, people often harbour misgivings about the scientific community and believe that scientists simply dismiss such claims about “cow-science” due to a “western bias”.
“Though most claims by supporters of ‘cow-science’ can be falsified through logical scientific arguments, from an outreach point of view, a higher percentage of people can be either persuaded to perform rigorous ‘cow-science’ or at least denounce those claims where rigorously conducted correlations or causation are missing — the scientific way to lay these claims to rest,” they have written.
The competition is being organised by a group of scientists and educationists affiliated to various premier higher education and research institutions such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), IISER Kolkata, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences in Bangalore.
This, however, isn’t the first opposition to the SUTRA-PIC project.
The programme was launched in February last year, inviting scientists to carry out research on primary products of indigenous cows, including urine and dung, with an aim to develop personal care products such as toothpaste, shampoos and mosquito repellents as well as look for cures to diseases like cancer and diabetes.
But when the call for funding opportunities was floated, a group of scientists had sent a letter, with over 500 signatures, to the government, expressing concern that such a broadly worded call for proposals will open the door for many poorly-designed studies, which they said would result in one-sided experiments to confirm predetermined conclusions.
A few of the signatories are among those who have launched the competition.
Competition as govt not heeding scientific advice
According to Aniket Sule, a researcher at TIFR who has been actively involved in scientific outreach, the competition was announced because the previous letter to the Department of Science and Technology (DST) against such projects did not bring any response from the government.
“The only way to defeat bad science would be to contrast it with good science. We are hoping that the students who can think rationally will showcase some good proposals,” Sule told ThePrint.
The proposals will help create a resource for outreach against research projects that are conducted for the sake of political points, he said.
He added that students can write a research proposal explaining which ‘cow-science’ claim they would like to test, the theoretical arguments in support of or against such claims, experiments they would conduct to test the validity of such claims and so forth.
Students of any age can send their entries to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15 May.
Although scientists do not have the means to actually fund these research proposals, the winners will be given a reward paid out of the scientists’ own pockets.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)