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Window Seat: Demystify Science

28/02/2021 at 7:07 AM

I am delivering Dr. CV Raman Memorial Lecture on the occasion of National Science Day- today, 28 February organized by Dhenkanal Science Centre. 

I intend to speak on the necessity of demystification of science and especially scientific jargon. People, by and large believe in science but are bamboozled by scientific terms and jargon.

Journalist James K Glassman coined the term zohnerism (after a 14 year old school kid named Nathan Zohner) in 1997 to refer to “the use of true fact to lead a scientifically and mathematically ignorant people to a false conclusion”. It is not just about being ignorant about science. It refers to the gullibility of most of us when presented with scientific jargon or facts- without really understanding the meaning of the jargon or the context of the facts presented.

Take the example of the substance that a cooking oil brand claimed to have which they said made their oil ‘heart-healthy’. Former Indian Cricket team captain SouravGanguly featured in the advertisement of this brand of oil. Ganguly, not yet fifty, suffered a heart attack and had to undergo operation.

The substance which they said made their oil ‘heart-healthy’ was ‘gamma oryzanol’. It is a substance that is taken out of rice bran oil. It is also found in wheat bran and some fruits and vegetables. People use it as medicine.

Gamma oryzanol is used for high cholesterol, symptoms of menopause, and many other conditions. Gamma oryzanol might reduce cholesterol levels by reducing absorption of cholesterol from foods. But- and here is the catch: ‘there is no good scientific evidence to support most of these uses’.

But we the gullible people would be bamboozled by the double whammy of the scientific jargon and the endorsement of a celebrity- who probably is unaware of what this substance is- or does not care.

Covid-19 pandemic has thrown new challenges to science communication, which must negotiate its path through the maze of anti-science, pseudo-science on one side and zohnerism on the other.

Saraswati as the goddess of love

For many Hindus, VasantPanchami is the festival dedicated to goddess Saraswatiwho is worshipped as the goddess of knowledge, language, music and all arts. She symbolizes creative energy and power in all its form, including longing and love.

The Goddess  of knowledge is also  Goddess of lyrics (Rig Veda) and melodies (Sama Veda)  and performance (Yaurbeda) which give rise to the art of theatre (NatyaShastra) closely linked with art of pleasure (Kama- Shastra) that  aroused a  flood of  esthetic juices (rasa) and emotions (Bhava) in the hearts of lovers.

Spring festivals have been celebrated as  love  festivals, celebration of music and poetry, spear headed by courtesans, who  through Saraswati Goddess of arts  venerated  Kama, God of desire.

VasantPanchami is associated with veneration of love. One of the legends behind VasantPanchami is based on the Hindu god of love Kama, also known as Madana. Thus VasantPanchami is also known as “MadanaPanchami”.  Pradymna, son of Krishna and Rukmini is Kamadev personified. He awakens the passions of the earth (and its people) and thus the world blooms anew.

VasantPanchami is also remembered as the day when the Seers (Rishis) approached Kama to wake up Shiva from his yogic meditation and marry Parvati, who was praying to get Shiva as her husband. Kama agreed and shot floral arrows in order to make Shiva pay attention to Parvati. As Lord Shiva awakened from his meditation and his third eye opened, a fireball was directed to Kama. Kama the Lord of desires was burnt to ashes. However, Shiva sawParvati and asked her how he could help. She prayed him to resuscitate Kamadev, and Shiva agreed to let Kamadevalive but in a disembodied form. Hence Kamadeva is also called Ananga (an means without; anga means body, “bodiless”), or Atanu (a means without and tanumeans  body). The spirit of love embodied by Kama made Lord Shiva agree with Mother Parvati’s proposal and their marriage resulted in the birth of lord karthikeya.

VasantPanchami is associated with the emotions of love and emotional anticipation in Kutch (Gujarat), and celebrated by preparing bouquet and garlands of flowers set with mango leaves, as a gift. People dress in saffron, pink or yellow and visit each other. Songs about Krishna’s pranks with Radha, considered to mirror Kama-Rati, are sung.

Wealth and Poverty

It is an irony that in many countries wealth and poverty co-exists. Consider Nigeria, which is the top oil and gas producer country in Africa. The World Bank states that the oil-rich country is one of the world’s fastest developing countries and Africa’s biggest economy. The petroleum industry in Nigeria is booming, with an overall increase in oil export; amounting to 98% of the economical wealth of the country.

Yet, most of the people of the country live in extreme poverty. Nigeria has approximately 87 million people out of the total of 180 million living in extreme poverty.

Poor resource and wealth distribution and management, political instability, greed and incompetence, corruption and economic inequalities are the prime source of poverty and famine in Nigeria. In fact these are the major reasons of poverty in resource rich countries across the world. In fact rich resources,ironically become the bane of the country- as it triggers internal conflict leading to bloody battles over the control of the resources.

Global Citizen reports that 80% of the energy revenue in Nigeria is only benefiting 1% of the population. Besides oil, Nigeria also has a large market in livestock, food and agricultural production. But gross social and economic inequality is dragging the country down.

In India also the social inequality is rising fast and alarmingly as per Oxfam inequality index. Unless that is addressed- we are heading towards a calamity. 

Tailpiece: The Monk

The monk who sold his Ferrari knew about the Petrol price hike.

Tailpiece 2: New Greetings

May your happiness increase like petrol price.

(Courtesy: Social Media)

About the Author:

Journalist turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, Odisha. Odia translation of an anthology of essays titled Mahatma Gandhi: Journalist and Editor, originally published in English is releasing by mid-January 2021.
[email protected]


This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with the www.prameyanews.com

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