The complexities of conducting science in India.
On a recent trip to India, I saw first-hand just how difficult it can be to conduct scientific work and forge science policies in a rapidly developing nation. Even as India's scientific enterprise grows and matures, scientists must convince the government to provide increased funding in a country with a high number of impoverished citizens. Sound policies must wade through a system often mired in bureaucracy.
Take energy and the environment. Roughly half of India's 1.1 billion citizens have no electricity — instead millions of villagers use biomass and cattle-dung cakes to provide the energy for heating and cooking. Cities are polluted with particulate matter from diesel engines and coal-fired plants. Development threatens ecosystems and animal species such as the iconic tiger.
Meanwhile, India's economy craves energy to feed its impressive nearly double-digit growth in gross domestic product — leaving some worried about its growing carbon footprint. Use of alternative energy sources such as wind, biofuels and solar power is being expanded, but their contributions are dwarfed by demand. Even as the country churns out thousands of scientists and engineers, energy and environmental policies lie fallow — there is sometimes insufficient political will for them to become engines for change. To compound matters, the country's ministries often fight among themselves for power and leverage.
Bioscience, meanwhile, is booming in some parts of the country. In the private sector, Bangalore-based biotech giant Biocon has reported profits up 21%. Academia is showing signs of improvement too. Desirazu Rao, chair of the biochemistry department at Bangalore's Indian Institute of Science, lauds improved government funding and says more scientists are returning to India after doing postdocs abroad.
Indeed, human resources are key to India's success. If both industry and academia are to flourish, if there is any hope of ameliorating the energy and environment woes, India must retain and foster talent. Good science and science policies need a government that helps rather than hinders — they also need good scientists.