In the dark age

Throughout history, applied science has been a cardinal force in shaping human lives. This will continue to hold true for any number of eons to come. Invention of the wheel charted a different course for human kind. Equally unconventional was the decision by human ancestors to use a tool or to settle for agriculture. If Watt’s steam engine heralded industrial revolution, Harvey’s cardiovascular system represented a medical milestone. But before such discoveries brought any instant benefit, pioneers were patient enough to realise that first it was important to strengthen the scientific base. And strengthen science, they did. Jenner took the risk of infecting a child when he first administered the deadly cowpox. It took enormous effort to invent a safety pin, a bicycle, velcro, a zipper or discover cells, the building blocks of life. No less challenging was the first human heart transplant, moon landing or cloning Dolly. But it also took conviction to believe that earth is round or that it went around the sun in the face of all odds, including ridicule, as Galileo faced. All of these show that benefit of science cannot always be imported: it has to be harvested.

The other day, those who keep abreast of scientific trends discussed how science and technology have benefitted Nepal and how important it is to develop that discipline. Immensely important as it is, the exercise, however, was not free from the hollowness that even the most incorrigible optimists would have found it hard to swallow. The policy of strengthening science and technology at home, remains largely confined to paper. The inability of the polity to invest in science in sharp contrast to lofty promises they make has been a mountainous mistake. Many a good scientific project have now been consigned to the dust bin of history. The environment-friendly trolley bus is one such example. It is dying a slow death even after being resurrected. Few exceptions aside, success stories, by and large, are those written by the private sector.

What is it that has forced Nepal to depend on others to improvise scientific techniques for domestic use? The reason: insufficient government effort to create conducive atmosphere for scientists. How many universities are equipped with the technology to carry out a quality research? Perhaps the DNA testing machine now lying idle for months best symbolises the scientific laxity at home. Where is the infrastructure necessary for those returning with scientific expertise from abroad? Unless the government realises the importance of the discipline and initiates a bold scientific policy, the way forward is at best unclear as it was twenty years ago.