LabsAccording to Dr Balasubramanian, though we are doing better in science, the number of practising scientists is coming down. First a pet peeve: what is it with guys that they keep comparing us with China? China is China and India is India; once we start thinking about our problems without reference to China, probably we will do better. And of course, the next pet peeve is to compare with Pakistan and say that we are going to be worse than them. Boy!

The claim that the number of practising scientists is coming down is something that is not clear to me; I would really have loved to see some numbers, or, at least a reference to some place where I can get them. Same is true for the comment on the quality of science too — how do we decide about the quality? These are deep issues, and each merit an essay; however, some hints would have helped. For the sake of argument, let us agree that our quality is improving while the numbers are coming down. So, what needs to be done?

I do not agree that “the degrees in engineering and medicine guarantee a high-income, high-quality life style, the one in science is not always so guaranteed” is just a perception; I believe it is the truth. However, increasing the salary structure of scientists is certainly not the first remedy I would suggest. In my opinion, it is a question of means and ends. If you increase the financial gains, you would get lots of people. But, most of them are there for the money in the first place, and not for science, you see. As Abi pointed out earlier in one of his posts, what we need is a differential structure that promotes performers, and punishes non-performers — Abi specifically talks about faculty salaries; but I guess what he says holds true for scientists as well. Now, the assessment of scientists to decide differential salary structure is where the question “What is good quality science” comes in — the answer is simple, if you you know exactly what your goals are.

The next suggestion that Dr. Balasubramanian offers is catch them young. Though I do think that catching them young is good, if the science education is not upto the mark for the gals/guys (especially since they would have come with so much of expectations to the study), it would harm more than help. The Departments in any college that are respected are those where the students derive great enjoyment in completing challenging tasks; unfortunately, most of our science classes leave much to be desired.

In summary, I think we need to think more about (a) defining clear goals for our science programs, (b) strengthening our science education, and (c) making sure that we build systems that encourage performers and punish non-performers; after all these are done, salary increases and catching them young will give better results. As is clear, the tasks (a)-(c) are more complicated, and require lots of thought and effort. However, till they are addressed, the improvements that we would make, if any, would be negligible.