Biomed Analysis: Indian scientists must stand for health

Should science be political? Government funding policies for science and health often appear to be at the whim of the ruling political party.

But scientists worldwide are often reluctant to engage with the politicians who wield such influence on their work, fearing they will be suspected of ulterior motives.

In developing nations scientists are notoriously timid about engaging with politicians, especially when it comes to lobbying for funding.

But when health is badly neglected, as it is in India, researchers and doctors need to take a much stronger political stand.

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Research Inventory Reports

Bhattacharya, Sujit. Indian Patenting Activity in International and Domestic Patent System: Contemporary Scenario. Report No. PSA/2006/1. New Delhi: Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, 2007. Download Full-Text

Krishna, V.V. (ed). Indian Country Profile: ERAWATCH Research Inventory Report for India. European Commission, 2009. Download Full-Text PDF

Krishna, V.V. (ed). Country Report on Innovation Policies – India 2008-09, European Union Network InnoPolicy Trendchart, European Commission, 2009. Download Full-Text PDF

Report on the Activities of the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India and the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet. New Delhi: Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, 2009. Report No. PSA/2009/1. Download Full-Text PDF

India ‘downgrades’ science ministry

Senior scientists in India have expressed concern over what they see as a ‘downgrading’ of the country’s science ministry under the new government, headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Singh — who was reappointed as prime minister on 22 May following the success of his Congress party in a general election — announced individual ministry portfolios yesterday (28 May), appointing Prithviraj Chavan as a junior minister with responsibility for the ministry of science and technology and the ministry of earth sciences.

But Chavan, who has a background in engineering, will also be responsible for a collection of other departments unrelated to science. He will look after personnel, public grievances, pensions and parliamentary affairs — as well being located in the prime minister’s office (PMO), rather than in a separate ministry.

“It is too much on [Chavan’s] platter,” says Ashok Parthasarathy, former science advisor to the Indian government. “Science and technology is a large area, along with the new ministry of earth sciences. How he will distribute his energies between various scientific departments, and between different other departments, is to be seen.”

Ministries in India are usually two-tiered, with both a senior minister and junior ‘minister of state’. However there is an intermediate category: a minister of state with independent charge, who does not have an overseeing senior minister — as is the case with Chavan.

Traditionally, Indian prime ministers have been nominal heads of the science ministry, with a minister of state looking after day-to-day business. The key departments of space and atomic energy are always under the PMO.

The trend changed in 1999, when the right-of-centre National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition government divested the prime minister of science ministry responsibilities.

Under the new government, the science ministry will have neither the prime minister as a nominal head, nor a senior minister, in addition to being just one of the portfolios of Chavan.

A former official of India’s Department of Science and Technology points out that the dilution of the role of a science minister will adversely impact science policymaking and funding: “Indian science … needs a strong leader who can argue for more funds,” he says.

Parthasarathy says that irrespective of the rank of the science minister, some of India’s core issues in science agencies — such as an integrated science and technology policy — have remained unaddressed. The dilution of a minister’s focus on science is unlikely to change the situation, he adds.

Singh stated soon after his reappointment that five specific sectors – the economy, infrastructure, rural development, health, and human resource development — would receive particular attention. He has not stated any particular plans for science.


OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook 2008

OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook 2008. Paris: OECD, 2008.

Global patterns of science, technology and innovation are quickly changing. What are the implications for science and innovation policy? What steps are countries taking to boost their capabilities in science, technology and innovation? What is the contribution of science and innovation to growth and social goals?

The OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook 2008 reviews key trends in science, technology and innovation in OECD countries and a number of major non-member economies including Brazil, Chile, China, Israel, Russia and South Africa.

Using the latest available data and indicators, the book examines topics high on the agenda of science and innovation policy makers, including science and innovation performance; trends in national science, technology and innovation policies; and practices to assess the socio-economic impacts of public research.

New to this edition are individual profiles of the science and innovation performance of each country in relation to its national context and current policy challenges. The graphs enable countries to see some of their relative strengths and weaknesses as compared to other countries’ performance.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Chapter 1. Global Dynamics in Science, Technology and Innovation
  • Chapter 2. Main Trends in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy
  • Chapter 3. Science and Innovation: Country Notes
  • Chapter 4. Assessing the Socio-Economic Impacts of Public R&D: Recent Practices and Perspectives
  • Chapter 5. Innovation in Firms: Findings from a Comparative Analysis of Innovation Survey Microdata

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