Thursday, November 18, 2010

“India as a Global Leader in Science” Part II … Honge Kaaamyaab

II. 1. Prelude

A seemingly silly Hindi movie Jaane Bhi do Yaaro left a wonderful impression on me in the early eighties when I had crossed my over-the-forty hill and had nothing to show for it. This movie had the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Ravi Baswani, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor, Satish Shah, late Bhakti Barve, Neena Gupta and Vidhu Vinod Chopra (he had the last line in the credits for actors). The genius of the movie is that it was hailed as the beginning of a new comedy cult. Its director was Kundan Shah who would appear sometime later with an equally remarkable and very dearly loved television series called Nukkad.

Among the many reasons that I liked this movie was the song Honge Kaamyab. At that time I thought it was one of those independence or freedom-movement kind of songs. I thought or I was told it might have come from Martin Luther King’s “we shall overcome” speech from the American Civil Rights movement. I did not know at that time that “we shall overcome” was actually a song. The tune of the Honge Kaamyab song was so definitely Indian in its style that I couldn’t imagine it to be American at all. Not even (or perhaps especially) after hearing the way Joan Baez sang it fifty years ago.

The American “we shall overcome” song may now be regarded as a typical anthem adopted by the world fighting against injustice and inequality under a ruling class. The song with the same tune appeared in several languages. In places where the communists were strong such as Bengal or Kerala, the title of the song became transliterated to Amra korbo joy or Nammal Vijayikkum as one would expect regimented minds in orthodox doctrines to do. The identical tunes of the two songs. "we shall overcome" and "honge kaamyaab" must suggest to such minds that the meanings are as nearly the same as are their tunes. For the regimens of leading soap-bubble intellectuals, this is what is suggested through the character of SRK in My Name is Khan.

It is not at all clear to me (or, as it seems, to some others) that “honge kaamyaab” has anything to do with overcoming anything of the externally imposed kind. Kundan Shah, the director of Jaane bhi do yaaro, is not our soap-bubble intellectual. Remember his film was released by the National Film Development Corporation of India on August 12th, 1983. You couldn’t get a more stubborn intellectual than that. The movie itself did not have any song sung by its characters. The song Honge Kaamyab comes to the mind of these two leading characters who fail in their first venture at business.

Honge kaamyaab, honge kaamyaab, hum honge kaamyaab ek din
ho ho mann main hai vishwas, poora hai vishwas, hum honge kaamyaab ek din

Which is almost a word by word translation of the lyrics of “we shall overcome”:-

We shall overcome, we shall overcome, We shall overcome some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome some day

The critical differences, if you like, is the mind over the heart (mann main hai vishwas over Oh, deep in my heart and the use of the word kaamyaab for overcome.

I prefer to view the word kaamyaab in the context of na kaamyaab. The latter may be unambiguously associated with “worthless” in which case kaamyaab would mean worthy. Honge kamyaab would men “we will be worthy” (worthy = commendable, praiseworthy, laudable, admirable, valuable, precious, creditable; from Thesaurus)

As one of the lead characters would say “Hamesha yaad rakhogi! mehenath aur imandari ka phal hamesha milta hai

II. 2. “Give us” versus “We will”

Among the words Indian Scientists would love to use to remind the government of their responsibilities towards them is that paraphrased in Churchill’s plea to America’s Roosevelt during his third term.
Give us the tools and we will finish the job.
The result of this was that the British did their job, the Americans came out of their economic slump from the profits of selling these tools.

The Science Vision Document of the Science Advisory Council could be making such a “give us” demand.
The world’s scientific equipment supplying companies would be licking their chops for this bonanza.

Another vision the SVDSAC may have is to ask, as JFK did of his fellow American Countrymen,
… ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

This the Americans did in many ways including landing a man on the moon… but, as one can see now, not very satisfyingly as far as the future economy went …

The Science Vision panelists could say “we have already done enough for the country! We have stayed here!” They may indeed believe it.

There still may be another really simple way!

Hum Honge Kaamyaab!

Just be true to yourself and be worthy of yourself. The rest should follow.

It’s not what you are without but what you have within.

To allow this to happen a whole lot has to change as it must.

It need not be a quakeful change.

At worst it would involve only the doing away of a gerintrocity (?) that has done little to inspire and lead (that is the important word) on new science or technologies.

It cannot be an orthodox change.
We cannot continue to allow the glitter of expensive new equipments and buildings to establish a value on Indian science, say, at an all-important Nehru family level with Churchill’s “give us the tools” appeal.

Hopefully, signs of a new young India, not of the glamour and tinsel kind, but perhaps of a new Gandhi kind, are emerging spontaneously with all its unorthodox appeal and hopes.

Honge kamyaab.

II. 3. Buzz of “Innovation Ecosystem”

At the Science Congress of India the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, spoke about an "innovation ecosystem" where "Innovators must be challenged to produce solutions our society needs. And innovative solutions with potential must be nurtured and rapidly applied," Accordingly the phrase “innovative ecosystem” finds mention in two places in the SVDSAC.

In the list of pressing problems for India (page 13 of SVDSAC, Box 2) we have “Strengthening the Innovative Ecosystem” and mentioning the weak innovative ecosystem for not scaling up the good basic science (all done long before independence) into new technologies. There is no mention what kind of basic science could or would henceforth be used for the “innovative ecosystem” which is the new buzzword.

The buzz on innovative ecosystem has become strong after globalization failed to deliver third world markets to USA or Europe because of, say, the unforeseen resilience of China and India to economic domination and the growth, instead, of “outsourcing” as a viable and strong independent economic mode. What was not expected was that the knowledge gained from one “outsourcing” exercise was then sold as home-built expertise to other markets in need of this expertise. This is especially likely when the notion of loyalty beyond local boundaries is not strictly ingrained.

The Chinese have become experts in the game. According to CNN (04/11/10) Air-bus is selling 100 airlines to China for some unheard of amount with the proviso that some of the planes will be manufactured in China. The CNN expert then goes on to add that, knowing the Chinese, they will use this plane-building exercise to take off on plane building on their own.

This is the worrying aspect of the erstwhile innovate-and-profit logic of west European societies.

Egils Milbergs, founder and president of the Center for Accelerating Innovation in USA would write that the basis of competitive advantage is being changed because of “unprecedented pace of change” in globally networked economies which encourage industrial spying especially for knowledge-disadvantaged societies.

We may assume a pace of change to be uncontrollably fast when there is no time for litigation to decide what is new and what is stolen so that patenting has no meaning. Technologies then become disruptive and hitherto standard manufacturing practices create organizational rigidity.

Simply having an innovative idea will not be sufficient in market and outsourcing driven economies. “A highly evolved innovation ecosystem enables participants to work across enterprise boundaries, focus on customer value creation, respond quickly to shifts in market demand, accelerate the transition from research to production and be more adaptive to change.

Instead of being original, plagiarizing another is now considered by some to be most economically meaningful. This is the paradigm shift that European countries could be most concerned with.

There is a recent newspaper article (DNA, Pune 04/11/2010) by one R. Jagannathan on “The upside of plagiarism…” where he justifies (I don’t know if he has a tongue in his cheek ----he has notgiven grounds for us to hink so) plagiarism since “… it speeds up the spread of knowledge at the cost of slightly retarding innovation.” He goes on to write and emphasize what is well known “Indian business has boomed on plagiarism. The Indian pharma industry has been built on the basis of reverse engineering” (an euphemism for copying). He adds Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) “… is the refuge of the rich while copying is benfecial to the poor”.

I am sure that R. A. Mashelkar, the champion of IPR in India, would be relieved to hear this.

Jagannathan’s columns are not required to have an internal consistency. They serve the purpose of the moment and turn arguments on their head depending on the commercial angle. As P. G. Wodehouse might have said “The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of a gun.“ So it must be with IPL.

The larger point here is not, however, whether commercial houses should indulge in plagiarism or not. Making profits by cheating is the birthright of business houses as compared to the warrior or priestly castes.

The success of the IPL (the intellectual variety and not the cricket one) depends on the strengths of a legal system and the willingness of a country to enforce it.

India is simply not prepared for a war in an innovation battle. Indian companies have little chance of selling on a large scale plagiarized products to commercially powerful countries and getting away with it forever.

We have no experiencing of winning substantial wars based on novelty of products except perhaps in the non-Karan-Johar song and dance routines of Bollywood films.

To be perpetually making profits means to be perpetually innovating … besides bluffing and misguiding and cheating and “killing” off stubborn competitors in the process.

The need for perpetually innovating is what leads to an innovative ecosystem which I illustrate below (click to expand) having borrowed the diagram for a digital ecosystem and replacing digital by innovative.

The heart of this ecosystem is the innovative ecosystem structure. The SVD of the SAC has opted to stay out of this structure.

I have no idea what resources the Planning Commission has in mind. except the mission set up by the World Bank, the erstwhile boss of the present chairman of the Planning Commission (Montek Singh Ahluwalia) as well as the present Prime Minister.

As far as I am aware (and I am likely to be unaware) the only Indian industry that has led to an all-round all pervasive growth is the two-decade old so-called information technology (IT) or as others would say outsourcing. However, this prowess has not helped it become a centre of innovation unlike that of the innovative ecosystem of Silicon Valley where working ideas of start-up companies are quickly sold out to major companies. IT and other smaller “outsourcing” income including those which export labour of all kinds (from chambermaids to visiting professors) is sufficient to drive economic growth in other sectors in perhaps an insular way.

“Outsourcing” does not require innovation but only “implementation” as The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has rightly said. Basic skills are required in this “implementation ecosystem” rather than basic science or research demanded from the “innovative ecosystem”.

NASSCOM makes the point that India's contribution in the software industry is ( heavily tilted towards the "implementation" part of the innovation cycle which is about coming up with ideas, implementing them so as to realize value in them. “Implementing” is to be taken as euphemism for “outsourcing” which is another euphemism for just being a clerk.

II. 4. The SAC Potential

The Science Advisory Council (SAC) to the Prime Minister of India does not have (and they will be the first to admit to it) scientists who have set the world on fire by their discovery or discoveries. They have at best the credentials to be considered as fellow scientists by the science community.

As government rules requires most members of the council who call themselves scientists are heads of institutions who have brought the science in India to its present state, good or bad, or just plain and average which they usually are.

There is this peculiar syndrome among scientists in India. Once they consider themselves to be good they want to administer science institutions or laboratories. If among all the complex administrative work they want to be seen doing science they usually have the help of the willingly or unknowingly fawning (flattering, groveling, creeping) subordinates to churn out results/papers. These papers borrow the style and require the content of recently published and deemed important papers in leading journals preferably of the west.

One cannot expect such a bunch of scientists to deliver on a new paradigm for development of a country such as India.

It is now more than 60 years since independence which saw the ruling political party encourage science in India mainly through the universities. It is interesting that most of the members of the SAC are from Central Universities or Centrally funded national laboratories. The central funding for science has risen from ~ 5000 crores in 2000-01 to ~ 25000 crores in the year 2007-08 (Fig 3 of the Science Vision Document (SVD) of the SAC or SVDSAC. On the other hand the funding for the universities has been stagnant in the same period rising from ~1500 crores in 2000-01 to ~ 2000 crores in 2007-2008.

It is no wonder that the statistical performance of Indian varsities has not been world-worthy.

Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) is a company specializing in education and study . It gives various weights to various review methods. The maximum weightage is given to Academic Peer Review (40 per cent), Faculty Student Ratio and Citations per Faculty gets 20 per cent each while International Orientation and Recruiter Review gets 10 per cent each. According to a QS survey the ranking of the top universities in the world for 2010 has the following Asian universities in the top 400.

Hong Kong 24, Kyoto 25, Singapore 31, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 40 Chinese University of Hong Kong 42, Peking University 47, Osaka 49, Seoul National University 50, Tsinghua University 54, Tokyo Institute of Technology 60, Nanyang Technological University (SG) 74, Nagoya University 91, Tohoku University 102, City University of Hong Kong 129, Yonsei University (KR) 141,IIT Bombay (187), IIT Delhi 202, University of Indonesia 236, IIT Kanpur 249, IIT Madras 262, IIT Kharagpur 311, University of Delhi 371, IIT Roorkee 401-450,

QS is known to make serious errors in evaluating various universities. The surprising feature is that city universities such as Singapore and Hong Kong from Asian countries should figure in the top 50. The highest Indian rating is an IIT at 187. Indian Institute of Science does not figure in the top 500. In a survey of the TopStudyLinks Indian institute of science is 565 in the world and 65 in Asia as compared to the highest Indian position of 45 in Asia (461 in the world) of IIT Bombay.

The QS ratings may not be reflected in other surveys. However, none of these surveys put any Indian University in the top 150. The institutions represented by their heads in SAC are most probably (if not certainly) not the leaders in world science.

Borrowing from the data of the GDP per capita one finds (in thousands of dollars percapita per year) European Union ~ USA ~ 45 Japan ~ 40, Singapore ~ 36, Hong Kong 29, China ~ 3.7 Indonesia 2.3, India ~ 1.0. We have only done better than Indonesia!

The painful conclusion is that the ranking of a university is only as good as its GDP per capita.
The question that arises is which came first high GDP or the high ranking. There will be, as always, two sides of the story.

II. 4. 1. Get a High University Rank and the High GDP follows.
So far, I think, Indian Science Administrators have used arguments which say give us the money for equipping us with the tools of science and we will deliver on the knowledge base that will ensure economic growth.

Lamenting about the lack of facilities in India Professor C. N. R. Rao, perhaps the most felicitated and facilitated Indian scientist ever, is said to have said while delivering a lecture on "India as a global leader in Science: A vision for India" "We have a tendency to waste time on small things. A scientist in the lab will be more worried about lack of drinking water and he will waste precious days about this doing no work on his research."

It is remarkable that we are yet to establish a “Science of Small Things” which will emerge fresh and original among the "science of old things", especially after so many years of lack of small things!

On the other hand, we seem to be happy to pride ourselves and seem to have found our true space when elected to a Third World Academy of Sciences because of our lack of small things.

Individually, the scientists in SAC are not pioneers in aspects of world science. Most of them take on themselves the maximum prestige of the journals in which their papers have been published. It does not matter whether these papers have generic ideas or techniques. In general, when the scientific ideas se ideas are good, the leaders in world science have citations in several thousands for their important paper(s). We don’t have that for SAC scientists for any of their papers published from India.

There are notable exceptions of scientists in the SAC. These are usually not head of any institution. There is at least one whose scientific insights (especially when broached with an unknown problem) are regarded very highly at all levels of scientists from undergraduates to Nobel laureates. Some others are worth the weight of their manuscripts that have come into print and whose (what I call) “cit-mon index” (number of citations per paper divided by the amount of money received as financial grant) would not be much better than many self-effacing others who are (and continue to be) solely motivated by their science.

It is possible that we have little expertise of what really constitutes an important, original and generic idea. By this I mean there is little expertise in recognizing research proposals which give an outside chance of generating evidence for an idea that will start (emphasis on start) a bull run in the investment market and/or in the citation market.

There is a chemist in the SAC who has the word “new” or “novel” in the title of 30-40% of his his publications. I am not aware of any non-review paper of this scientist that has a citation that is anything like a respectable number (say, 50). Although the number of citations is not always a serious indicator of the quality of one’s work, it is always considered by science evaluators to judge rankings.

Since our science seems to be measured by bureaucratic standards, the Indian Scientists need to be seen to be publishing in “high impact factor” journals. They require to conform to the commercial standards set by these journals.

As a result they lose out on originality of the genuine first-of-its-kind kind.

We do not seem to have a fearless Ulysses who will say
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
… … …
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

It is perhaps a problem of the Indian psyche that we do not have an equivalent of Ulysses in our myths and epics to inspire us to be fearless explorers right from our childhood. It is not sufficiently important to get an original idea and publish it as a full paper. In modern times, it is important to treat it as war and establish the idea by publishing follow-up papers, traversing the world giving seminars and fighting for priority. It is many times critically dependent on the backing of a scientific authority or power at home.

Our post-independence science tradition (except perhaps for GNR and GMRT) does not seem to have such examples.

The SAC of the PM could start by finding people who can recognize a native Ulysses before some other foreign land does so. Obsequious sycophancy cannot be allowed to continue sustaining itself on promises of another land than ours.

II. 4. 2. Get a High GDP and the High University Rank follows.

Bringing up the GDP of a low-GDP nation can only mean that it increases the dependence of the top crust of the low-GDP nation to directions given by a high-GDP nation. These directions are usually given in the form of condescending World Bank Guidelines which tells you for what and when kind of development you may expect funding with which and where conditions.

The GDP per capita is a more meaningful index only when the wealth is more uniformly distributed, more legally scrutinized, and more contained within a country than in foreign banks. This does not seem to be the case in India.

Increasing the GDP or GDP per capita is an economic issue which does not seem to have (at least to this admittedly inexperienced blogger) straightforward answers.

If the SVDSAC is to make India a global leader in science, there need be some mechanism by which it is so rated. The positioning of its universities in a global ranking scheme could be one such mechanism.

As we have concluded from GDP per capita analysis one should have a high GDP per capita for a high university ranking.

The process of getting a high GDP is not left in the hands of scientists, especially like those in the SAC, who work their way through using research grant proposals from Government based on published or conference-presented literature.

That assures a five-year technology gap and a technology application only after patents are more than 25 years old (normally).

Realistically speaking, a high GDP comes from profit-motive driven individuals making lots of profits. The top 10% of the world’s population owns 85 % of the world’s wealth.

These individuals force the universities to work to protect the way they make their profits either through legal advice or through technical developments or both.

Implicit in the acceptance of these statistics is that the rich know how to hold on to their riches better.
That used to be true until 2008; till the time they really believed in their theories of their richness.
Rich gas, at higher statuspheres, can only expand.

This is very close to a Marxist scenario
Rich fish can only grow by swallowing small fish until there is no more fish to swallow.

The old economic order changeth and not all the world’s leaders nor world bank economists, nor Madison avenue strategists know what to do about it except to buy time hoping to sabotage each other.

II. 5. Planning Science for a Molten-Down Future.

As visions of economic order seem to change ruthlessly one wonders whether old economic doctrines will be a given a go by and a new value system with its own doctrines would take its space. See my blog “Shiva's Dance and the Stock Market: Creative Destruction.”

The tranquility of Shiva after his cosmic dance is frightening. Things have to change in this economic meltdown and know n economic orders must change.

While an economic meltdown could be hurtling on its unpredictable but deterministic chaotic path I am reminded of another meltdown, a nuclear meltdown. This meltdown appears at the end of the movie (see “Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Love the Bomb”

Dr Strangelove is a paraplegic confined to a wheel chair. A wrong command for exploding a nuclear bomb cannot be prevented. A protective series of nuclear explosions are to follow.
The script at the end of the movie goes like this.
Strangelove: .sir! stands up out of his wheelchair I have a plan. Heh. pauses, realizing that he is standing Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!
Multiple scenes of exploding bombs, dancing to the tune of "We'll Meet Again."

I guess the haunting unforgettable voice of Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again” gives such a nostalgic climax that it is impossible not to rank “Dr. Strangelove” among the best movies to be made that has a strong message.

The movie Dr. Strangelove has an “… apocalyptic theme (which) was about how technology had gone haywire and had dominated humanity.
One may have a modern apocalyptic theme based on how the failure of monetary and trade theories lead to a change of world order.

The crisis of the economic scenario in the recent G20 summit seems to me (happy part could be that I am rarely right) to be very much like the American war-room at the end of Dr. Strangelove when primitive people discuss strategies for the survival of the human race after the nuclear holocaust, while the Russian Ambassador sneaks away to photograph the war room with his spy camera.

This breakdown of economic order can (hopefully not) end apocalyptically with the march of the four horsemen of apocalypse:- violence, pestilence, disease and death.

In another context, T. S. Eliot’s words This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper is the beginning of the novel “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute of people in Australia waiting for their inevitable death after the fallout of a nuclear war (by mistake) in the Northern Hemisphere.

After an economic meltdown the world could also end with a whimper.

II. 6. Quality of Life Ecosystem: Science of Small Things

One of the nice things of an economic meltdown is that it gives more chances for survival to the economically backward.

In other words it gives a chance to those who have followed traditional paths of survival without depending on conspicuous consumption profits gained from getting courtesans and clients and their equivalents in the fashion and haute couture circles. After all, this is what pumps up the eco-motive-force of modern science and technology.

It is not serious as far as the quality of life is concerned.

In the final analysis, one has to recognize that it may be the science of small things that will ensure a quality of life that is driven by common and minimal sharing of natural resources.

It will be sufficient to say that, by its very nature, this approach is very different from the rapid economic meltdown so apparent now in the Indo-China-centric stripping of mother earth’s skin and disemboweling of her guts.

I have given above a “quality of life ecosystem” that is obtained from the “Innovation Ecosystem” scheme given earlier. In this QOL ecosystem scheme there is no tangible economic index used except in the transition from “work” through “socio-economic conditions” and “sense of well being”- The socio-economic link may be avoided in gauging a QOL.

Attempts to quantify a QOL, such as those by the Economists Group, end up with parameters which reflect standard economic success parameters such as those used to calculate GDP. It does not give good insights to a quality of life as we know it.

/See the introduction to The Quality of life
)1993) by Martha Craven Nussbaum and Amartya Kumar Sen)

There is also no quantifiable value given to items such as “work” and “family” and “community” and “culture” and “tradition” and “sense of well being”. From a School of Economics point of view there is no sense in this QOL ecosystem. Conversely, from the QOL eco-system point of view these schools of economics do not have the sense.

Of all the countries only Bhutan seems to be searching for a Gross National Happiness scheme when material and Buddhist spiritual development complement and reinforce each other.

A recent (2009) attempt to get QOL indicators by Department of Environmental Planning School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, shows that it is hopelessly befuddled concluding with a fabblegab jumble of sentences such as
"By their nature QOL measures represent a snapshot in time. It is understood that any measurement data used for predictive purposes would need to be collected over sufficiently long time periods to successfully capture or model the co-evolution of humans with their environment and develop an effective knowledge base.°

The people leaving Anatevka in the last scene of Fiddler on the Roof would sing
What do we leave? Nothing much. Only Anatevka.
… Anatevka, Anatevka. Intimate, obstinate Anatevka, Where I know everyone I meet.
Soon I'll be a stranger in a strange new place, Searching for an old familiar face
… I belong in Anatevka, Tumble-down, work-a-day Anatevka.
Dear little village, little town of mine

The people of Anavtevka know when a home is home since they have lost their home. We should be knowing our home from the way we equilibrate with our life at home.

The Science of Small Things (using Arundhati Roy's turn of phrase) could learn to quantify such crucial QOL things.

That should be our Global Vision

It is at these time that we understand what "honge kaamyaab" really means.

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