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India’s Disgrace

I’ve written here about what I referred to as “nationalist science”, in that case actions by the Hungarian government against its own universities and the Chinese government’s vigorous promotion of traditional medicine. Now we can (unfortunately) add another one to the list. The Hindu nationalist movement in India has been moving into science and medicine in recent years, making claims about ancient discoveries and remedies that are completely unfounded but appeal to their supporters.

This article at Science will get you up to speed, most unenjoyably. There was an incident last month at the Indian Science Congress where a chemist, vice-chancellor of Andhra University yet, made the claim that ancient Hindus has been doing research in stem cell technology based on a tale from the Mahabharata. You know, back in 1972 I was more skeptical as a ten-year-old reading those Erich von Däniken paperbacks which made similar claims, so it’s not very encouraging to see this stuff showing up in 2019. In fact, from the looks of it, some of these folks are citing the exact same verses in the ancient epics, and why the hell not, I guess.

Problem is, this is not some lone crank:

Some blame the rapid rise at least in part on Vijnana Bharati (VIBHA), the science wing of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a massive conservative movement that aims to turn India into a Hindu nation and is the ideological parent of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. VIBHA aims to educate the masses about science and technology and harness research to stimulate India’s development, but it also promotes “Swadeshi” (indigenous) science and tries to connect modern science to traditional knowledge and Hindu spirituality.

VIBHA receives generous government funding and is active in 23 of India’s 29 states, organizing huge science fairs and other events; it has 20,000 so-called “team members” to spread its ideas and 100,000 volunteers—including many in the highest echelons of Indian science.

The former head of Indian defense research, for example, says that he firmly believes in the powers of gemstones to influence human health. Narenda Modi himself claimed a few years ago that the transplantation of the god Ganesh’s elephant head onto a human was an example of outstanding ancient Hindu surgical techniques. And if that sort of thing doesn’t make you want to bury your head in your hands, try this:

Critics say pseudoscience is creeping into science funding and education. In 2017, Vardhan decided to fund research at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology here to validate claims that panchagavya, a concoction that includes cow urine and dung, is a remedy for a wide array of ailments—a notion many scientists dismiss. And in January 2018, higher education minister Satya Pal Singh dismissed Charles Darwin’s evolution theory and threatened to remove it from school and college curricula. “Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral [texts], has said that they ever saw an ape turning into a human being,” Singh said.

Excellent. The first time I remember hearing that one was from Mr. Smith, an elderly man who lived next door to us in my small Arkansas town in the late 1960s. He had the exact same line about apes and humans, and went on to inform me that moon landing program was a hoax and that dinosaurs never existed (“Just a bunch of old bones they stuck together”) As a six-year-old fan of NASA and defender of the honor of dinosaurs, these claims did not go over well with me. My 1968 visions of what the world would be like in fifty years tended towards space travel and flying cars, and most definitely did not include national ministers of science taking the side of Mr. Smith.

Needless to say, India has produced great scientists (Hindu and otherwise) who have done great work: Bose, Raman, Chandrasekhar, Ramanujan, Khorana and many more. But the country’s scientific record is dishonored and mocked by this sort of thing. There are many prominent Indian researchers speaking out against these idiotic statements, and I support them wholeheartedly. Science in general is dishonored by attempting to impose nationalist or religious criteria on top of its underlying principles. Those principles? To find out the truth about the natural world, to validate it by careful and repeated experiment, to build on that knowledge wherever it may lead. To understand physical reality, in other words, to work with it as it is and not to play games by believing only what it makes us feel good to believe.

65 comments on “India’s Disgrace”

  1. John Wayne says:

    There is a bunch of SciFi out there wherein some of the players are governments that support a fundamentalist religious position. I always thought that this was a cute way of presenting antagonists and drama to a situation without vilifying an entire race, country, ethnic group, robots, etc. Unfortunately, the last few years have shown that this can happen. Easily. It may be the default status of humanity.

  2. loupgarous says:

    Evolution takes some strange pathways. In Soviet Russia’s case, it retarded their entire biological warfare program while Trofim Lysenko’s theories were state-mandated dogma and the teaching of actual genetics was officially punishable ideological heresy.

    In fact, the commissars nearly divested the Soviet nuclear weapons program of one of its brightest theoreticians, who flatly refused to nod meekly and sign his agreement with Lysenkoism. Igor Kurchatov had to call his ultimate boss, Lavrentiy Beria, and plead to keep his young protegé with the program. It wasn’t an easy task – Beria asked “How badly do you need him?” before sighing and telling the party boys to get lost… that one time.

    1. aairfccha says:

      Never mind the biowaepons, Lysenkoism was also a bit of a disaster in general.

      1. loupgarous says:

        Biowarfare was a priority funding target for Soviet science (at least until Stalin gave most of the rubles to his nuclear program in the late ’40s), so it was particularly telling that his BW program was reduced to really phenotypic testing, rummaging through sewers for rats with virulent strains of what was then called pasteurella pestis (the great rectification of names to Yersinia pestis happened when I was a senior in high school, and I used the old name through college).

        Part of that was pas de mieux because of Lysenko’s stranglehold on Soviet biology, and why I singled it out. Of course, it entirely screwed up Soviet agriculture and microbiology in general with more significant results for the tovarichii. It doesn’t seem to be until after Sinsheimer’s group published their first recombinant DNA paper that the Soviets really got their asses in gear in innovative BW, though. Brezhnev had just signed the Biological Warfare Convention when secretly, the Soviet Union had set up Biopreparat (which used genetics of every kind, including recombinant techniques).

  3. Anon says:

    The good news is that the rest of the country is laughing at them…laughter and ridicule is the best antidote for such puffery. Part of these outlandish claims are due to the “Wounded Civilization” syndrome alluded to by Naipaul…trying to hearken back to a golden age (Brexit invokes similar imagery of a lost, glittering past…). The problem will be fixed by the next national election

    1. arvi says:

      I am afraid not. In fact, it may accentuate further after general elections.

      1. loupgarous says:

        The “lost, glittering past” of India before the East India Company showed up was war between Muslims and Hindus, and if you read the Mahabharata, between Hindus and Hindus for millenia.
        That seems (with massive shifting of people and territory, of course) to have been preserved.

  4. dearieme says:

    “Brexit invokes similar imagery of a lost, glittering past…”: so the Remoaners claim. Yet I’ve never met a Brexiteer who speaks along those lines. What can it mean?

    1. johnnyboy says:

      Then you haven’t been paying attention, or are being disingenuous (two traits essential to be a good brexiteer).

      1. Victor Meldrew says:

        Ahhh… where would we lowly Leaver be without morally and intellectually superior Remainers to point out the error of our ways…..

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=9&v=qL4XU5EAurM

      2. Nick K says:

        I know many Leavers personally. Contrary to your characterization, not one is a Little Englander or an Empire nostalgist.

        1. drsnowboard says:

          And of course, they would easily self-identify as such..
          Brexit is a herd behaviour shitshow of the highest order.

          1. Victor Meldrew says:

            Leavers = sheep or cows

            “When you are in a hole, stop digging”

            You guys just make it too easy…….

  5. SirWired says:

    A few months back I was pointed to some Wikipedia article about the use of heavy metals in Ayurvedic medicine (including winners like mercury and lead.) As part of the article, some of the texts were described as having “well organized and complete” descriptions of a process for turning lead into gold.

    Yeah, I fixed that little tidbit right away.

    It amazes me the ability for folks to completely turn their brains off when talking about this sort of stuff.

    1. Marcus Theory says:

      That just means they mastered nuclear physics too.

      1. loupgarous says:

        The Brahmastra appearing in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas is cited as proof that ancient Hindu deities had a pretty good handle on nuclear physics.

        Some folks (not all of them living in India or following Hinduism) think India has priority on nuclear fission and fusion based on those stories. Everyone else sticks with modern history, and actual ancient nuclear reactors. Evidence for those can be found in Oklo, Gabon. The Oklo reactor’s activity predated the appearance of humans on Earth.

    2. Chris Phoenix says:

      Yes, those horrible, toxic, worthless-to-medicine heavy metals, what fools they must have been for using them.

      “Mercury stayed in favour as treatment for syphilis until 1910 when Ehrlich discovered the anti-syphilitic effects of arsenic …. In 1908 Ehrlich was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery. …. It then became apparent that for arsenic to be effective, it had to be combined with small doses of either bismuth or mercury.”
      https://jmvh.org/article/syphilis-its-early-history-and-treatment-until-penicillin-and-the-debate-on-its-origins/

      They did the best they could with what they had. Blanket condemnation is as thoughtless as blanket acceptance.

      And really, will our ever-shifting diet advice look any better 500 years from now?

      1. Wavefunction says:

        One also really needs to distinguish between Ayurveda and homeopathy. Notwithstanding the idiotic example above, homeopathy pedals sugar water while Ayurvedic medicines contain actual molecules (eg. gold which was used for centuries in Ayurveda for arthritis was found to work through the MHC: there was a paper in Nature or Science a few years ago). Same thing with Chinese medicine, as was recognized by the Nobel Prize for artemisinin whose method of preparation Tu Youyou figured out from an ancient Chinese text. The problem is that there’s a vast amount of anecdotal information and plain nonsense mixed in with the stuff that actually works. It reminds me a bit of Herodotus – some great history and revelations about the Egyptians mixed in with stories of ants who dig for gold and dog-headed men.

        1. Peter Kenny says:

          Hi Ash, we are fortunate that drug design is based on rigorous science like ligand efficiency (the dependence of perception of efficiency on the concentration unit used to express affinity is a simply a minor limitation) and enthalpic optimization (the thermodynamic signature for binding or a ligand to a protein is surely predictive of behavior of the compound when the protein is absent). Furthermore the superstitious nature of people in India is greatly exaggerated (I was at Eden Gardens when Tendulkar was adjudged to be LBW on 9 and the the crowd did not sacrifice the umpire to Kali despite the point of contact being rather high).

        2. SirWired says:

          Artiminisin was mentioned in TCM texts, but not for malaria. (It doesn’t grow in the parts of China where malaria is endemic.) The TCM use is for fever, which it doesn’t actually work well for.

          Furthermore, the ancient texts did NOT tell how to prepare it in a potent form; they suggest making it into a tea, but the active ingredient is not particularly water-soluble. In practice, ether is used.

          Really artiminisin is more of a “stopped clock is right twice a day” than a demonstration of the effectiveness of TCM as a whole.

      2. Mukund M. Mehrotra says:

        @Chris Phoenix- “Yes, those horrible, toxic, worthless-to-medicine heavy metals, what fools they must have been for using them.” You, Chris fella, now eat your words. In the West, the Roman Empire was brought down by the widespread use of lead. The following report about those “fools” of Rome is from the journal “Science”, which cites a paper published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” Now, I am wondering if you could be from Rome whose ancestors were exposed to heavy doses of lead which seems to have brought down your intelligence.
        https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/04/scienceshot-did-lead-poisoning-bring-down-ancient-rome

        1. Ian Malone says:

          “The following report about those “fools” of Rome is from the journal “Science”, which cites a paper published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” Now, I am wondering if you could be from Rome whose ancestors were exposed to heavy doses of lead which seems to have brought down your intelligence.
          https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/04/scienceshot-did-lead-poisoning-bring-down-ancient-rome

          Neither that article or the paper it references actually say what you say it does. In fact they say the opposite, “Lead pollution of “tap water” in Roman times is clearly measurable, but unlikely to have been truly harmful.” Aside from that, PNAS, while a reasonable reviewed journal, do have a history of overhyping their papers in press releases and the unreviewed “significance” statement. I’d also treat any attempt to explain complex historical events with a single mechanism explanation with scepticism (the same for attempts to apply diagnosis for complex medical conditions to historical figures based on minor symptoms).

          1. FoodScientist says:

            Didn’t they sweeten things with lead acetate? I’ve heard this would have been more likely to cause lead poisoning in romans. They also used lead cups and food vessels. There’s probably a scientific article that actually tests bones and teeth for absorbed lead. This would be a much more scientific way to go about it than how much their “regular water” could have contained.

            On Indian traditional medicine. Governments probably like it because it’s way cheaper. It also might compare favorably with some types of addiction. It seems more psychology based than chemistry based medicine.

          2. FoodScientist says:

            It’s interesting how the plebes were less affected than the patricians.
            There’s some correlation with how asbestos was used in the early 19th century. You might die of some lung disease, but house fires were much more of a hazard, with everyone smoking and knob and tube wiring.

            Lead Poisoning in a Historical Perspective
            Sven Hernberg, MD, PhD http://www.rachel.org/files/document/Lead_Poisoning_in_Historical_Perspective.pdf

            THE EARLY DAYS
            Lead was known to man as early as 4,000 BC. Both the Egyptians and Hebrews used lead and the Phoenicians mined lead ore in Spain around 2,000 BC. The earliest written accounts of lead toxicity have been found in Egyptian papyrus scrolls. According to them, lead compounds were often used for homicidal purposes. Hippocrates, in 370 BC, was probably the ®rst to describe lead colic, without however recognizing the etiology. The ®rst to describe lead palsy was Nicander in the 2nd century BC, but he too was not able to attribute the palsy to lead exposure. But in the 1st century AD Dioscorides saw the connection between lead exposure and toxic manifestations, and Pliny stated that lead poisoning was common in shipbuilding. The Romans produced an average of 60,000 tonnes of lead a year for 400 years. They used lead compounds for glazing pottery, and metallic lead for cooking utensils and piping. They also used to boil and condense grape juice in lead pots for preserving and sweetening of wine. Lead poisoning from all these sources must have been common in ancient Rome. The poisoning was epidemic and is said to have
            caused many stillbirths, deformities and cases of brain damage. Considering that lead also reduces fecundity, it has been suggested that widespread lead poisoning, selectively affecting the patricians who drank much wine and had access to plumbing, contributed to the decadence and later the fall of the Roman Empire [Gil®llan, 1965]. Indeed, high lead concentrations have been found in archeological Roman bones; higher in bones retrieved from patrician tombs than in those found in plebeian graves.

        2. Chris Phoenix says:

          Oh my goodness, I wasn’t saying heavy metals are _safe_! Just that they’re legitimately useful in medicine, especially when you don’t have better antibiotics. They were not all fools 1000 years ago, or 10,000 years ago.

          By the way, the Romans ate lead, but we’re no better – we modern Western enlightened people dispersed it into the air via “leaded” gasoline, and there’s a strong statistical correlation between leaded gasoline and crime-two-decades-later.

      3. zero says:

        The problem with dietary advice is people pretending they have all the answers and speaking with authority and confidence on the subject. I think the best the evidence can do is “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Anyone who sounds like they have answers beyond that is lying, either to you or to themselves.

        It is extremely difficult to shift public perceptions and habits under the best of circumstances. If all you have in your arsenal is “Research suggests but does not prove that eating nuts reduces the risk of heart disease” then you’ve managed to convey the truth while accomplishing nothing else.
        For a politician it’s important that change happens and can be credited back to them one way or another, preferably in a way that protects against negative outcomes. Phrases like “using the best available knowledge” come to mind.
        The result is laws or rules that get changed periodically, complete with PR campaigns, that try to shift what and how we eat. Other than cutting calories and avoiding proven toxic compounds I haven’t seen evidence that these shifts in diet have had any positive effect.

        I guess another way to phrase it is that people want a foolproof, universal, step-by-step method to get thin, get heart-healthy, get off the insulin. The people offering such guides are very much like cult leaders, competing on a charismatic level with other diet authors for readership.
        This is purely marketing; no one diet plan can possibly be appropriate for all people. That’s also hard to explain to the average person, partly because they will have to confront falsehoods they believe and perhaps even actions they’ve taken that were not justified.

        1. Shazbot says:

          Mostly Plants is itself speculative..

      4. loupgarous says:

        As dangerous as chemotherapy with heavy metals is, at the time Ehrlich discovered salvarsan/”compound 606″, it was also evidence-based medicine. Sound scientific method led to adoption of the compound, and it was clinically effectve. Ayurveda has some good things in its pharmacopeia, but they need to be winnowed out from the things which scientific research shows won’t work, and carefully.

        One researcher at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas has already tripped over the temptation to bring Ayurvedic treatments into western medicine without touching all the scientific bases.

        1. Colintd says:

          This kind of thing always bring me back to the lines:

          “What do you call alternative medicine that works?”

          “Medicine”

          There are good parts of many historic medical practices, but also clear rubbish, or even harmful rubbish. Modern “western” medicine is not without its own history of poor treatments, some right up to the present day.

          The key as Derek implies is clear empirical testing, ideally double blinded. Where it works it will be integrated into the whole, where it doesn’t it will fall by the wayside.

          The only problem is where “testing” is done with the “result” already decided…

      5. Dan says:

        To be fair, a description can arguably be well-organised and complete without having a shred of truth about it. For example, Gulliver’s Travels may approximate that for Lilliput, but I’m not going to book a holiday there any time soon.

  6. loupgarous says:

    The “Brahmastra, as described in the Mahabharata, is a weapon which is said to be a single projectile charged with all the power of the universe” according to our good friends Google and wikipedia. It’s been said to prefigure nuclear weapons (which do, indeed, unleash the weak and strong nuclear forces responsible for how matter is organized in nature) in contemporary Indian literature.

    A certain town in Pakistan supposedly shows the signs in its soils of having been ground zero for an ancient nuclear detonation. Those claims don’t bear close examination and are largely “Chariots of the Gods”- caliber confabulation, by those who aren’t satisfied with instances of ancient natural nuclear reactors (requiring no human or divine interaction at all, just a large stream of water passing over beds of uranium ore unusually rich in U-235 to moderate their neutron flux) such as the one in Oklo, Gabon.

    The real world is even stranger than fiction, but people all over the world love their fiction more.

  7. Wavefunction says:

    In his book The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan says that every country seems to have its own favorite brand of pseudoscience: astrology in India, creationism and climate change denial in the United States (remember Lamar Smith and his ilk from the House Science Committee? Or the Congressman who said that “evolution and Darwin are lies from the pit of hell.”), homeopathy and rays from the ground in Germany (Funnily enough, I too found Erich von Daniken tantalizing as a child; fortunately it took me only a few years to recognize the crackpottery).

    Speaking of the god Ganesh, there was a mass delusion a few decades ago where thousands of people in major Indian cities suddenly started claiming that the Ganesh statues in their homes had started drinking milk. Turns out it was just capillary action combined with a healthy dose of wishful thinking and credibility. Quite fascinating, actually.

    I don’t think pseudoscience is more prevalent in India than what it was before: I remember reading about another space defense head from a few years ago consulting an astrologer or making a ceremonial offering for good luck before launching a rocket – a strange mix of first-rate technology going hand in hand with pseudoscience if there ever was one. But its proponents are certainly being more vocal, and it’s a good thing that their nonsensical claims are being scrutinized more on blogs and social media by both Indian and other scientists.

    1. Sukumar says:

      The milk drinking Ganesh’s, claims of herbal petrol (a hoax perpetrated around the same time that fooled many lay people and even scientists), cold fusion, astrology and homeopathy are excellent examples of the ability of human brains to selectively process information, leading to what Irving Langmuir in a Colloquium at the Knolls Research Laboratory, on December 18, 1953, termed Pathological science (transcribed by R. N. Hall and published in Physics Today, 42: 44, Oct. 1989, and available online at http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~ken/Langmuir/langmuir.htm )

  8. Mary Mangan says:

    I was aghast the other night at a Darwin Day lecture by Andrew Berry. He brought samples of books with him from Turkey. Apparently there is a big creationist push going on there, with apparently well-resourced and influential folks who have Erdoğan support? It wasn’t the main thrust of the talk, but it was very creepy. The books were bonkers (at least the English ones).

    It’s very unsettling on many fronts, I’m afraid.

  9. luysii says:

    Lest you think that ALL people believing this stuff are stupid and uneducated, as a neurologist doing mental status exams on > 10,000 people over the years, and working with them subsequently as a physician, I can assure you this isn’t so.

    People can compartmentalize their various incompatible beliefs quite easily believing both to be true. Heck, physicists do this all the time — they know relativity and quantum mechanics are incompatible but true.

    A family member is a brilliant stock market tactician who has been written up in Barron’s several times, believes in astrology, and reads “Woman’s Health” for medical info (which drives me bonkers). However he is extraordinarily rational about his stock market advice and always gives several (usually 3 or more) reasons he could be right and several more reasons why he could be wrong.

  10. Synthon says:

    Then there’s agriculture and Dr Vandana Shiva, who is very influential and, as I understand it, often completely wrong.

  11. Loupe says:

    “Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral [texts], has said that they ever saw an ape turning into a human being,” Singh said.

    You got me there, Singh.

    1. Sukumar says:

      … but every now and then we see a human being turning into an ape.

  12. Bannem says:

    “We’ll give Johnny Foreigner a good kicking and every day will be bobbies on bicycles and cream teas and Miss Marple knitting Spitfires on the village green. We used to have an empire don’t you know?”
    -The Brexiter’s Creed . . .

    1. Well, I strongly suspect that if Jane Marple is knitting them, they will kick ass wherever they may fly!!!!!

  13. Bill says:

    Let’s start calling “pseudoscience” by it’s proper name – bullshit.

    1. DH says:

      Well, “bullshit” is a broader concept, of which “pseudoscience” is only one specific variant.

  14. oldnuke says:

    That Hindu god-head-transplant sounds like the ancient version of Paolo Macchiarini at work.

  15. mittimithai says:

    Correction: link points to article in Science (not Nature) 😉

  16. Druid says:

    Who has annual objectives? How many project teams choose their development candidate when the sun leaves Scorpio and enters Sagittarius because of the calendar pressure? I think we should consult a professional astrologer for the most propitious day to make a candidate selection. It could not be any worse than what we do and at least we would have got expert advice, and we could blame him or her when it all goes wrong!
    Then, let’s not blame the country (in this case, India) for the mistakes of its government or we will all have red faces.

  17. Grumpy old alchemist says:

    The idiotic “pseudoscience” statements by the Indian government officials must surely be an embarrassment to Indian scientists but are they really worse than the ignorance displayed by senior American government officials? As an American PhD scientist of Derek’s generation, I am often embarrassed by our government. We have an entire political party that steadfastly denies the undeniable on both climate change and evolution. We even have high government officials that don’t believe in vaccination! If Derek’s neighbor, Mr Smith, was still around, Trump would probably appoint him to head NASA or maybe NSF. And yes, Modi is a disgrace when it comes to his knowledge of science but he’s Einstein compared to our President (remind me again which leader is pulling his country out of the global climate change accord? hint: rhymes with Dump). I’d be willing to bet that if President Trump and Prime Minister Modi each took a high school general science exam, Modi would score much higher than Trump. I’m also sure that both would be easily outscored by any 7th grader in my local middle school but that’s a rant for another day. The point is, given the glass house that we Americans live in with respect to government officials and science, should we be throwing stones at India? Maybe we should clean up our own house (and senate), first!

    1. Passerby says:

      And unlike Trump who went to an Ivy League school and should know better, Modi didn’t finish high school and used to sell tea on the street, so it’s even worse for Trump than it seems (I can’t imagine Modi saying “This season is one of the wettest we have ever seen, from the standpoint of water” which Trump said during hurricane season last year). And in many other matters Modi has been far more articulate, intelligent and aware compared to Trump. As you pointed out, every country has its brand of science deniers, crackpots and religious fundamentalists, and I don’t really find India to be much worse than the US in this regard.

    2. Lambchops says:

      Yup, nail on head here really. There are plenty of examples of idiocy in all parts of the world, whether from public figures (such as Trump’s climate denial, Gove’s desire to banish experts, Prince Charles’ support for homeopathy, etc) or from scientists who should know better.

      While Derek has noted the contributions of some great Indian scientists and is quite right to call bullshit where he sees it, conflating this to be equivalent to “disgrace“ for an entire country as he does here (and has done in the past with China) is something of a disgrace itself. Be consistent with how America is treated and call out individuals or institutions where needed.

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        Oh, don’t for a minute think that I ignore disgraceful things when they happen here. Go back and see my election comments about Trump’s candidacy, or what I’ve said about various member of Congress. Or Martin Shkreli or his ilk. I use the word “disgrace” to describe events, statements, and policies in this country pretty often, because there are plenty of opportunities.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Not too far off topic for readers of In The Pipeline is what some consider to be the earliest controlled clinical trial, something of interest to drug researchers. Although the participants were motivated by religious beliefs, the trial design, implementation, and analysis was strictly on the up and up and was not designed to prove anything about those beliefs. It was also an example of self-experimentation, not too unlike the Right to Try movement, as discussed In The Pipeline. Furthermore, Pipeline readers might want to take note of the lengthy delay getting the study published.

    “The earliest example of self-experimentation may go back to 605 BCE when Daniel and several other Jewish captives of Nebuchadnezzar were offered positions in the government and a diet of the king’s own rich meats and wines. Refusing to violate the Jewish dietary laws, they declined the food and asked for a diet of legumes and water instead. The officials had a serious concern that such a limited diet might be unhealthy so Daniel offered to conduct a “clinical trial” (of sorts). He conducted a diet study as a self-experiment (along with 3 others: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah). After 10 days on the abstemious diet, the subjects appeared even healthier than the controls eating the king’s food and they were allowed to continue.”

    A couple of links, one in my handle:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com / science/article/abs/pii/ S0149718906000139?via%3Dihub
    qualitysafety.bmj.com/ content/qhc/ 13/2/153.full.pdf

    The study was performed around 2600 years ago. It was not published until around 2200 years ago. It is not clear whether the authors withheld submission while waiting for an open access publisher to consider their paper, or if it was held up in the review and editorial processes, or if they were just being persecuted for trying to publish a paper that ran counter to the interests of the powerful Big Meat Industry.

    1. Some idiot says:

      Brilliant!!! I think I need to print out that last paragraph and frame it…!

      🙂

      1. Fgjkkkkkkknnn says:

        Brilliant!! You did a PhD in less that 30 years!!!

    2. loupgarous says:

      I think the study manuscript may have gotten mislaid during the research group’s move back from Babylon.

  19. PLK says:

    Pseudoscience, Misinformation together with Conformational bias and Wishful thinking are current societal challenges that make me realize at times – If Knowledge is Power, Ignorance is indeed Bliss.

  20. Ghjkfddryg says:

    Yeah, we can all sing kumbayah and s—— Ben Cs d:::: or we can pick on the poorest country in the competant world for pot shots….the Derrick Lowe chooses option 2

  21. Anonymous says:

    Derek, I am a reader of your blog since more than a decade. Thanks for highlighting the current situation of people in higher positions in India making false claims to promote Hindu nationalist movement, supported by the current government. Elections will be held in May and most likely the “Disgrace” will be over soon.
    On another note, growing up in India I always wondered how people can elect some of the politicians whose only goal was to make money and had least concern for the poor people and their problems or the country. But still those people would admire and vote for them. After the last election in USA, I realized that I was wrong to have that opinion towards those people in India, as mostly they were poor without any education and were victims of sweet talk by the so called leaders.

    1. Agree completely with your analysis of the last election and comparison to Brexit – but worse!!!

    2. Design Monkey says:

      >wondered how people can elect some of the politicians

      It°s pretty simple. First, a typical voter is heavily stupid anyway (thinking, analyzing and taking responsibility for own decisions is hard, uncertain and painful), second and most important, humans have their monkey pack instincts to follow the leader (passing responsibility to leader frees the common monkey from thinking by itself). And given that it is instinct, it is not effectively hold in check by intellect, especially not in average stupid voter. Thus, those politicians get elected not by any actual positive merits, but by who has the reddest arse and most bellicose whoops (are most appealing to instincts). And exactly the poorest idiots will vote most by their instincts and will elect the most monkeylike politicians.

  22. Insilicoconsulting says:

    While the recent upswing in nationalism has made us look into the mirror and REALLY think about whether we are a SOFT nation, it has also meant this sorta pseudo-science. A result of awakening the national spirit but no being able to separate the chaff from grain. Ayurveda indeed has some very sound therapeutic principles but also needs to be sanitised.

    Unfortunately except for some premier research insitutions and scientists even previous govt sponsored research labs were mostly producing junk. And there was a welcome effort to clamp down on their mediocrity. But alas , it seems to be going the other way

  23. The Iron Chemist says:

    “The former head of Indian defense research, for example, says that he firmly believes in the powers of gemstones to influence human health.”

    Considering that conflict diamonds are a thing, he’s not entirely wrong.

  24. Uudon Rock says:

    I’m reminded of Ghost Shirts of the Lakota people. Belief does not make reality. This is the kind of thinking that makes anti-vax and flat-earth theories so “real”, and moreover dangerous. I occasionally hear from people that believe there is a cure for cancer. I feel it is my duty to educate on this subject. You can’t change everyone’s mind though. Some people just chose to ignore empirical evidence and common sense.

    That being said I have worked with pharmacists (mostly eastern) that wanted to study the reported/historic merits of eastern herbal medicine. I think this is a worthy option, and could (emphasis on could) lead to wonderful findings. I tend to be skeptical of magical claims, as anyone should be, but there could be unexpected benefit if we take the time to look past the unbelievable claims. I’m fairly sure a pocket full of rubies will impact your fiscal future though, since you can obviously afford a pocket full of rubies.

  25. IndianScientist says:

    For those who would like to read an informed piece about Indian science, please follow the link below –

    https://medium.com/@subhashkak1/a-very-brief-history-of-indian-science-a73a885b5664

    Science lived in India way before most nations even became nations. Yes, there are some idiots who extrapolate valid and valuable Indian scientific knowledge well beyond reason, this doesnt in any way take away the role India played in the world before the Muslim rulers and the Westerners invaded and looted India for about a 1000 years. The invasions over many centuries robbed India of not just money, but also culture, science and spirituality.

  26. David says:

    I am reminded of the (possibly apocryphal) tale of the Nazi Education Minister asking David Hilbert, “How is mathematics at Göttingen, now that it is free from the Jewish influence?”

    To which he responded, “There is no mathematics in Göttingen anymore.”

  27. toxmed says:

    Meanwhile in India. The premier science institute does not have any money to pay its scientists. Also, the money is directly disbursed from Modi’s cabinet, I hear…

    https://www.ndtv.com/education/tifr-to-pay-half-of-net-february-salary-to-staff-due-to-fund-crunch-2004019
    “Government Run Tata Institute To Pay Half Salary To Staff In February: Remaining part of the salary will be paid when sufficient funds are available,” TIFR registrar Wing Commander (retd) George Antony said in a letter.”

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