Renewing the dialogue on science, scientists, and society

Over the past century, there have been many points of intersection between organized science, governmental policies and patronage, and societal benefits and concerns. In India, these linkages achieved prominence largely after independence. As in the West, the initial engagement of science, polity and society was marked by optimism, enthusiasm, and a belief that science would enable and empower governments to address various national problems, thereby enhancing the quality of life of the citizenry.

In more recent decades, the euphoria has subsided, in part as science and society have both undergone rapid, far reaching changes. The darker side of even the well meaning
application of at least some scientific technologies has also become more apparent, with greater appreciation of the longer-term detrimental effects of many scientific fixes to problems in areas ranging from food security to energy to disease. Another change is that scientific research has, on the whole, become more expensive, leading to a greater societal expectation of accountability. Moreover, with rapid technical specialization
within science, both science and scientists are increasingly being seen to be self-referential and out of touch with societal needs and aspirations. One unfortunate
outcome of these changes has been a burgeoning anti-science feeling in a subset of society, most dramatically so in USA, but also, to a lesser degree, in India.

Thus, it is imperative to have greater clarity on issues like what expectations do society and the government have from science and scientists, and vice versa. This is essentially what has been referred to as the ‘social contract of science’.

Read the full article in Current Science