Not just at the Indian Science Congress, incredulous scientific claims have been made by prominent people, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
New Delhi: From questioning the theories of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton to asserting that ancient Indians were adept at stem cell technology, the five-day Indian Science Congress that ended on 7 January saw claims ranging from the contentious to the downright incredulous.
But they are hardly an anomaly considering the number of questionable scientific claims that have been made on public platforms in the last four to five years.
This discourse appears to have permeated all levels of polity, including unscientific statements from ministers, with the Modi government even attempting to introduce some of these claims into the higher education curriculum through a book endorsed by the RSS.
Right from the top
Among the offenders, when it comes to promoting unscientific claims, is Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
In 2014, speaking at the launch of Reliance Hospital in Mumbai, Modi sent the scientific community into a tizzy after claiming that Lord Ganesha’s head must have been fixed by some plastic surgeon and that Karna was a test tube baby.
“We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb,” Modi had said while claiming that ancient Indians dabbled in advance medicine. “This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.
“We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery,” Modi added.
Down the political chain
As if taking a cue from the Prime Minister, a number of Right-wing speakers, including ministers, began making some incredible claims.
Junior Human Resource Development Minister Satyapal Singh challenged Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution while speaking at a public event in Aurangabad last year, claiming that Darwin was wrong because “no one has ever seen an ape turning into a man”.
“Darwin’s theory (of the evolution of humans) is scientifically wrong. It needs to change in school and college curriculum,” Singh had said. “Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, has said they saw an ape turning into a man.”
In 2017, then Rajasthan education minister Vasudev Devnani said the cow is the only animal that breathes oxygen and exhales oxygen.
“Gai ekmatra prani hai jo oxygen grahan karta hai, aur oxygen hi chodta hai (the cow is the only animal that takes in oxygen and also releases oxygen),” he had said while speaking at a gaushala in the state.
The non-science Congress
The most startling of claims, however, have been made at the Indian Science Congress, which should have been hosting some of the country’s top scientists.
In 2015, a paper presented on Indian aviation technology claimed that the ancient sage Bhardwaj had written detailed guidelines on the making of an aircraft. Captain Anand Bodas, a retired pilot who authored the paper, had quoted the Brihad Vimana Shastra to buttress his claims.
Last year, the Union Minister for Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan shocked the audience and organisers of the event when he said even Stephen Hawking had said that the “Vedas have better theories than Einstein”.
In 2017, there was an exhibition explaining the scientific existence of Ramayana and Mahabharata at the Congress.
Such has been the turn that a group of scientists have had to actively come out and work on breaking myths around science.
“Even before the current government came to power many such things were being said, but most of them were not given any prominent platform, they were mostly being written on blogs or said at some event which went unnoticed,” said Aniket Sule, a Maharashtra-based scientist who is a part of Breakthrough Science Society, a group which has been trying to fight spread of fake scientific information.
“After 2014, a number of Right-wing speakers are speaking at prominent platforms like the science congress because they are getting the chance to do so.”