In countless ways the world has never seen a year like the last, when it comes to science taking centrestage. It has defined all the key turning points, from helping us understand how Covid-19 spreads to finding vaccines against it at unprecedented pace. The Galileo dictum, measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not so, has been at the heart of this process. Even before today, India’s progress on many fronts had been shaped by scientific temper – take the heavy investments across governments in areas like space exploration, child vaccination and renewable energy. Only, it is clearer than ever now that this is our only path to a healthy future.
India’s tragic descent into the second Covid surge was preceded by sheer disregard of pandemic science. From distaste for public masking to declaring premature victory against the virus and neglect of key protocols that allowed the virus to storm our shaky public health defences, irrational institutional responses have taken an obvious toll. And individual lapses continue: An Indian football team has negligently breached another country’s bio-bubble, nine lives were lost ingesting an alcohol-based homeopathic concoction in Chhattisgarh, fake and dangerous cures for Covid pneumonia continue to be peddled on social media etc.
A decrepit education system that is based on rote learning isn’t helping. In the coming years it must be reformed to promote scientific habits and critical inquiry. Citizens bereft of modern governance or structures like functional schools and hospitals often can’t gauge the value of science in their lives. This may even explain some families being improperly masked at hospitals despite the virus having invaded the respiratory tract of their relative. A long civilisational quest has bequeathed India traditional systems of medicine and thought. But a virulent pandemic demands dispassionate interrogation of the evidence and this is where high-profile quacks deserve no quarter from the state.
The vaccines that have passed the test of multiple trials before authorisation for commercial use best exemplify the spirit of scientific objectivity. Where the vaccine remains slow in coming, governments must not neglect tools like testing and genome sequencing. When detected cases shot up in Maharashtra from February, ramping up testing in neighbouring states – a virus is no respecter of porous borders – could have mitigated the second wave. To recover, to thrive again, India must commit fully to science. And make sure that our children get a solid grounding in it.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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