Prof. K. Muralidhar
Jawaharlal Nehru Chair Professor,
School of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad
Kambadur Muralidhar is a distinguished Biologist of our country and was born at Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. He obtained his BSc and MSc from Osmania University, Hyderabad. He started his research work under LK Ramachandran, at Osmania in the summer of 1969. He obtained his PhD from IISc, Bangalore in 1976 working under NR Moudgal. His PhD work, demonstrating that beta subunit of Luteinizing Hormone can bind ovarian receptors fetched him the Prof KV Giri Memorial Gold medal for the best PhD thesis of the year.. He was selected for the first Lectureship in the School of Life Sciences at the newly founded Central University of Hyderabad in august 1976. During 1979-81 he was a Research Associate in the Department of Cell and Molecular biology at SUNY, Buffalo, New York, USA with OP Bahl. His work led to the development of the most sensitive RIA for HCG, a pregnancy hormone. He also demonstrated the immunocontraceptive vaccine potential of DS5-hCG beta subunit. He joined the University of Delhi in 1983 as Reader in Biochemistry and became a Professor in Endocrinology in 1988. He was Chairman of the Department during 2001-2004.
ETHICS IN SCIENCE AND ETHICS OF SCIENCE
Education is necessary to transform each of us into a responsible citizen. In ancient India, it was understood as a process to raise an individual consciousness to its highest potential. In Sanskrit and other native Indian languages the term used for it is vidya. Ancient India distinguished paraa vidya from aparaa vidya. The latter referred to skills which can be traded to earn a living. The former was true higher education. The student had to seek his/her Guru to receive education. Ethics was part of instruction in both. British rule introduced University, College and School system of education. Even this had a component of moral education to make the students, law-abiding citizens in public life as well as recognize what is right or wrong in personal life. Independent India continued the colonial system with increasing separation of Natural Science from Humanities. Application oriented courses were separated as Professional courses (for example, Law, Medicine and Engineering etc.) leading to, hopefully, employability. Over a period of time, more and more information, sometimes knowledge too, became crammed into the curriculum. Two consequences of this process were apparent. One, presentation of knowledge in fragments called, euphemistically, specializations and two, ethics part of education became a casualty. Experimental science seeks TRUTH just like Philosophy or Religion. In science, both the knowledge obtained and the means to obtain that knowledge are equally important. The latter is named Scientific Method. Measurement is the only experiment conducted in all natural sciences. Criteria of reliability in terms of Precision, Accuracy, Sensitivity and Specificity have been defined. This is part of ethics in experimentation. Many scientists are not trained properly in all these aspects. At a broader level, transaction of knowledge, in class rooms, field and laboratories, is based on the taxonomy of human knowledge in a given time period. These taxa are named departments, divisions, centers etc., thus defining the boundaries of particular domain knowledge. It is accepted that the boundaries are becoming increasingly porous and, in some cases, disappearing altogether. Restructuring of University departments and UG-level and PG-level courses to reflect the true nature of the taxa is urgently needed. Taxonomy is for convenience and is not time-invariant! Does it not become ethical, on the part of teachers, to demand and implement, syllabus revision and update and even restructuring of the courses? This the ethics of higher education which is conspicuous by its absence in our campuses. From a sociological and philosophical perspective, universities are losing their intellectual and ethical standards. Many sociologists like Shiv Viswanathan, Sunder Sarukkai, have bemoaned this fact.
The philosophical underpinnings of Natural Science and Higher Education in general and Biology in particular have been examined to understand the root causes for the present crisis in university research in sciences. Science and Society is a good topic for debate and discussion. To debate this point, one should understand the nature of science and the reasons for the perceived conflict with society. Science in the modern sense is alien to the South Asian community as a whole. Science in the modern sense arose in Europe as part of the Renaissance movement. The philosophy of this science has been described by many great minds especially Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russel and Karl Popper. Through colonial rule, this science was introduced to the rest of the world. However the basic curiosity to know was part of human activity in every civilization. Philosophical traditions in every society arose after men and women organized into settled societies after the discovery of agriculture 10000 years ago. There was division of functions among the inhabitants. A small percentage of such societies indulged in reflective thinking. The questions and problems they addressed were either real time (i.e. materialistic about Physical Nature/Environment and human behavior) or supernatural dealing with after death problems and the relationship between living and dead beings. Great religions arose out of the latter philosophical deliberations. It is only during the Renaissance movement, the focus was completely on the materialistic world around us. This inquiry was named Natural Science.
It was to be practiced by the use of scientific method. The body of knowledge that resulted and the process of gaining information itself, together come to be known as Modern Science or western science. It was a new kind of philosophy constrained by both the phenomena that were inquired into and the methodology used for such an inquiry. Science in the modern sense had only one aim till the seventeenth century i.e. to understand the structure and functioning of Nature. Rene Descartes, the French mathematician and the first philosopher of modern science, added one more aim and that was that science should be useful to man in developing creature comforts. From then on fundamental science and application oriented science (or even technology) became the twin parts of Science. Hence it was Science & Technology from then on. Natural science comprised three branches i.e. Physics, Chemistry and Biology. For strange reasons pure Mathematics was not included under Natural Sciences. Each of these had the single aim of knowing the ‘TRUTH’ about Nature like in the case of any other system of Philosophy.
Every organized society has a set of myths or beliefs which in the form of narratives and mythological stories give rise to customs, traditions and rituals. These together are called ‘Culture’. Science had given rise to another culture which appeared to be in conflict with the existing culture not only in the ruled colonies but also in the land of rulers like England, France etc. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Science & Technology practically dictated the development plans for different Nations including South Asian countries. The national budget share for Science & Technology related activities attracted social auditing of this enterprise called Science. Sociologists in particular and society in general appeared to be in conflict with Science as a Culture and Philosophy. The conflict was particularly acute in the perceived confrontation between Religion and Science. It was all due to misunderstanding of true science on one hand and true religion on the other hand. Both are spiritual pursuits in reality. Analysis of all successful animal and plant groups make us realize that conflict and cooperation is their characteristic feature. All conflicts have to be and can be resolved. Taking adversarial positions does not lead to solutions. Informed discussions alone will lead to conflict resolution and hence the survival of the societies in question. In the words of Vannewar Bush, Science is ‘amoral’ i.e. neither moral nor immoral. It is man who misuses science & technology and misinterprets science to general public and that aggravates this perceived conflict. South Asian countries being rich in religious traditions have witnessed this conflict much more than western countries. We have to solve this problem with native wisdom which is non-confrontational in nature, and which seeks peace and harmony in society.
Science, being an organized activity in search of ‘TRUTH’, has mandatory set of norms, summarized as scientific temper and written in the form of scientific methods, to be followed by every practicing scientist. In practice however, this is not followed by majority. The reasons for this deviant behavior can be found in the way scientific activity is structured. Science is practiced in structured departments, centers, professional societies etc. and rarely by individual scientists in isolation. Science, especially experimental science is largely in the form of public and private funded projects. Further, scientists receive various awards and recognitions from their own scientific societies and society in general. Peer pressure is another influence on scientists. All these induce, many a time, unethical behavior in scientists, both workers and leaders, and this is for individual benefit at the cost of social good. These include lack of rigor in technical work, plagiarism of previous work and ideas, multiple publications of the same work, ghost authorship, irreproducible experimental results and even data creation without work. This is, in fact, contrary to the demands of scientific temper and scientific methods. These puzzling behavioral patterns can be observed at all strata of scientific establishments, i.e. award of Nobel Prizes, selection of teaching faculty, admission of students, funding of project proposals, providing physical and material support to working scientists, practice of institutional goals etc. Biology in particular, faces another ethical dilemma unique to this Natural science. This pertains to the resolution of conflict of interests among scientists themselves. Three particular cases are very important for our consideration in this context. One deals with the conflict of interest between animal rights & ethics societies and demands of biomedical research and the second deals with the conflict of interest between philosophical underpinnings of Biodiversity Conservation and Bio prospecting i.e. use of biodiversity derived products for human welfare. The last testing case for our discussion is of course the conflict between the environmentalists and Industrial/Technological development. Live and let live is the only answer to all these perplexing problems of existence.
Publication of research findings is an obligatory and satisfying activity in the practice of science. Few decades back journals were run with meagre profits and for purely academic reasons. Published reports were freely available to everyone. In the last few decades, however, scientific journals, even those by professional societies, are printed and published by a handful of publishers for huge profits. They are accessible for reading, only for a fee, even to those who created and wrote those papers. Libraries in developing countries are finding it difficult to subscribe to these thousands of journals as budgets are shrinking. While the Impact Factor, an original idea of librarians to help decide subscription priorities,, has become a surrogate marker for excellence, the whole art of doing and publishing science has become a vicious circle of unethical practices. Open science, Open access journals and open and non-western model research may be a partial answer to solve the problems of scientists from developing world. Research has to go back to its pristine glory of being an innocent and ideal activity. Scientific community itself has to realize this and initiate reforms and change mindsets of practioners.