Here in the United States, many of us are by now used to depressing news about anti-science posturing by Christian fundamentalists. From evolution to climate change, anti-science fundamentalists attempt to undermine public education and scientific progress. These efforts not only stifle scientific invention, but also fuel opposition to effective policies, such as carbon taxes.
Unfortunately, the United States is not alone in this regard. I recently read a terrific and terrifying column by one of my favorite Indian writers, Ramachandra Guha, titled “India already the myth-making world superpower.” While India’s success as the provider of information technology service has contributed to talks about India’s scientific prowess, Guha argues that nothing could be further from the truth.
He surveys a series of fantastic claims made at the 2015 Indian Science Congress: that ancient Hindus had mastered plastic surgery and were able to conduct nuclear explosions. The evidence for these claims would come from a far-reaching interpretation of sacred scriptures.
These individual claims may not represent the consensus view among Indian scientists, but it is still troubling that scientists of all people are willing to make nonsensical statements in the public. In the United States, it is rarely the scientific establishment that undermines its own capacity to generate knowledge. In India, prominent scientists attack the foundations of their chosen profession.
For anyone concerned about climate policy, this is a particularly troubling situation. As China’s emissions begin to peak, all eyes are now on India, where the potential for an emissions explosions is large due to population growth and economic growth. While economic growth will remain India’s priority for decades to come, there are many opportunities for cost-effective climate policies that abate carbon at a negative or low cost.
Scientific literacy is surely not a major determinant of energy policy anywhere, but basic awareness about science can still support rational climate policy in the long run. So, let’s hope both India and the United States come to terms with science.