India needs to promote Basic Sciences and Applied Sciences Research

The Indian Science Congress held at Kolkata in January 2013 had a topical theme, ‘Science for Changing the Future of India’. Deliberations and discussions revolved around two important aspects: Science in India and its role in changing the country into a Knowledge Centre.

Often it is not just money that attracts the talented young people towards research in basic sciences; it is the love of ‘science’ that motivates them. The journey has to begin with aspiring to do “great science” not “big science”. However, negligible funding is allocated to research in basic sciences.

A cursory look at the websites shows that these devote most of their funds to applied fields. The thrust areas where a major share of the funding is devoted are mostly genomics, proteomics, molecular biochemistry, medicine, pharmaceuticals etc. None of these institutes devote substantial funds for doing research in basic science. This trend has resulted in basic sciences going to the dogs.

The Science and Engineering Council (SERC) [ Now converted to SERB ] , DST, Government of India initially started funding research conducted in basic sciences but gradually shifted to frontier areas and projects that promised publications and citations in international journals started to rule the roost The result of this unbalanced distribution of funds has led to the country sliding back in streams where India pioneered and had been doing better or could have achieved greater milestones.

Applied sciences are offshoot of basic sciences. It is because of research conducted by Louis Pasteur, the French biologist who showed that germs cause disease that great advance was made in technologies of sterilization and vaccination. Gregor Mendel conducted basic research on peas and it is because of his laws of genetics that great advancements were made in the field of genetics and genomics. The study of reproductive biology of trees in diverse habitats is indispensable for carrying out work in conservation biology and applied ecology. Many afforestation programmes are not successful because the basic biology of trees used for plantation in a particular habitat is not studied.

Study of forest tree reproduction may seem very simple and not of much relevance, but the destruction of forests and their importance in helping maintain world climatic patterns makes such studies very applied. Such studies have enormous relevance in stressed and urban environments as well. Research in basic science provides excellent training in problem solving for those who go on to work in applied research or development in industry.

Developing countries have a responsibility to fund basic science in the interest of the society as a whole. For creation of knowledge networks and fostering scientific temper at young age it is imperative to understand the basics of scientific principles operating around us, making observations, recording observations with precision and analyzing these in light of the literature available and logical reasoning and thinking. The value of such networks is increasingly recognized by economists, and professionals in commerce and industry.

Besides, advances in one branch of science often stimulate fundamental advances in another and at times one can find surprising and general applications of the study that can revolutionize various concepts.

There is every reason to expect that the benefits will justify our investment in basic science research manifold. Participation in basic research will also benefit society by educating and training thousands of students who will choose to enter the workforce not only in academic research but also as workers in many diverse arenas.