Most Indian scientists working in
the anonymity of their labs or research institutes seldom make
news even if they achieve a vital breakthrough or invent something
new. Their discoveries and insights go unreported, while those of
their counterparts in the West are regularly highlighted and
showcased by our own print and electronic media.
Unwittingly, the biggest impediments to a good story or their
adequate representation in our news columns are the state-run
scientific institutions and bodies themselves. There may be
honourable exceptions, but most of them act like administrative
officers, mired in suspicion and wary of sharing details about
their research, believing that it would somehow undervalue their
work or help rivals outsmart them.
In this connection, this writer's experiences as a science editor
have been far from encouraging. In most cases, researchers don't
respond to phone calls or e-mails. Even if they do, their repeated
acts of omission and commission and lack of transparency are
enough to discourage the journalist from his pursuit of
highlighting something significant or worthwhile.
Regrettably, many potentially good or relevant stories might have
to be abandoned because of this unwritten code of secrecy.
Practical difficulty in pursuit of such stories cannot be
minimised. Placing something in the public domain through the
press ensures that it stays in circulation for follow up or
This writer recalls that when he joined Indo-Asian News Service
more than three years ago, he had requested the faculty and PR
heads of all the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to share
new researches and discoveries. They neither responded to his
e-mails nor phone calls. Repeating the process at weekly intervals
failed to yield results, compelling him to give up what could have
been a shining example of science-media cooperation.
For instance, how the recent report "Increasing pollution levels
choking India's lakes" came to be written makes for an interesting
story. It first appeared as a press release in a reputed American
website, a rather generalised and sketchy version, couched in
jargon and attributed to a nameless Indian environmental chemist!
Sensing a good story, this writer carried out a dozen searches on
the net, finally tracing the report to a Mumbai college-based
Trying to contact the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata
for additional inputs on a proposed underground lab turned out to
be a futile exercise. The dozen STD calls made to the institute
went practically unanswered. At long last, someone advised him to
contact the project head on his e-mail id since he happened to be
out of town. No, he could not say when the faculty head would be
back. The writer sent several e-mails to the person, but in vain.
Central government research establishments are a shade worse.
Queried about information on the New Delhi superbug, the staff
from the infectious disease institute concerned said he was not
authorised to speak to the press and that the expert who could
answer specific questions was busy elsewhere. Could the writer
despatch the draft of the news story to them, so that they could
judge its merit and then choose to answer him? That is how the
Even after the publication of their discovery in the print media,
some scientists are reluctant to share additional information. For
instance, a research institute run by a religious mission had
isolated a fungus that would withstand temperatures of 100 degrees
Celsius. Surprisingly, the Chennai-based researcher stonewalled
queries about specific details regarding the fungus!
Some who don't mind sharing the fruits of their research offer
only a sketchy or a truncated version, compounding the task of
science editors. Or plead for more time to provide additional
details, which is a polite way of suggesting that enough is
The base material for "Yoga effective in treating psychiatric
disorders", provided by a medical scientist at Nimhans, Bangalore,
was good only for writing a few paragraphs, not a proper report.
His clinical reports on yoga had to be dredged up from other
websites in a time-consuming exercise to put together a credible
Shudip Talukdar can be contacted at email@example.com.
The views expressed are personal