Indian Science Congress Speakers Say Newton Was Wrong, Ancient Demon-King Had Planes
January 9, 201912:56 PM ET
At this year's annual meeting of the Indian Science Congress from Jan. 3 to 7, senior research scientist Kannan Jegathala Krishnan dismissed Albert Einstein's theory of relativity as "a big blunder" and said Isaac Newton didn't really understand how gravity works.
Nageswara Rao, a vice chancellor at Andhra University in South India, said that Ravana, a demon god with 10 heads, had 24 kinds of aircraft of varying sizes and capacities and that India was making test-tube babies thousands of years ago.
Dinosaurs were created by the Hindu god Brahma, said Ashu Khosla, a scientist with expertise in paleontology at Panjab University in the North Indian city of Chandigarh.
Not exactly the kind of remarks you would expect at an event whose mission is to advance and further the cause of science, to stimulate discussion on scientific theories and to create an awareness of science-related issues, especially among children and that is funded by the Indian government's Ministry of Science and Technology.
Krishnan, Rao and Khosla were addressing a group of 5,000 children assembled from all over the country at the event's Children's Science Congress. Their lectures were posted on YouTube and reported widely by the press. The congress organizers were red-faced, and the scientific community in India was outraged.
The organizers of the conference were taken aback. "This is the 106th edition of the Science Congress," said the group's general secretary Premendu P. Mathur in an interview with NPR. "Since 1914, we've had so many meaningful conversations with children on science. We've hosted Nobel laureates from around the world, and yet the controversy overshadows the good when some people misuse our platform for personal and political gain."
About 15,000 scientists from India and around the world attend the conference every year, said Ashok Saxena, a zoologist and a former president of the congress, in an interview with NPR. They are a part of the 50,000-strong Indian Science Congress.
Invitations were sent to 250 scientists and researchers to speak at the various sessions of the annual event.
Among the famous attendees this year were three Nobel laureates: Hungarian-born Israeli biochemist Avram Hershko, who won the prize for chemistry in 2004; British-born physicist Duncan M. Haldane, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2016; and German-born American Nobel laureate for medicine in 2013, Thomas Christian Südhof,
Addressing the comments made during the children's event, Saxena said, "We never dreamed that some of them would spout such irrational ideas. They were invited to speak based on their science credentials."
But this isn't the first time the Indian Science Congress has been mired in controversy. In 2016, Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan famously called the event "a circus" because of the way religious ideologies held sway over science and said he wouldn't attend another session.
Many scientists believe that politics is the problem.
The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, in 2014 meant that the ideals of the organization that it is closely linked with a right-wing group called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are now mainstream. The RSS believes in propagating Hindutva as a nationalist movement. The term refers to the effort to establish a Hindu way of life and glorifying Hindu beliefs.