The fight over ISRO

My report about ISRO’s ’90-95%’ success claim vis-à-vis Chandrayaan 2 had precisely three kinds of response, split 49%, 49% and 2%.

One 49% group went like this:

The other 49% went like this:

The remainder, which constituted meaningful engagement, was virtually residual.

To add to this, K. Sivan has brought a new thing about him in his position as ISRO chairman, which is to issue loose statements where his predecessors have been a lot more careful and considered. In 2018, he said ISRO would look for He-3 on the Moon – a claim that has since been thoroughly debunked. Last weekend, he said Chandrayaan 2 was a 95% success, which was eminently debunkable.

Makes one wonder if what one is doing is useful at all – but before this thought process hand-holds one down into a pit of self-deprecation, various temptations take over: confounding factors (that there could be a lot of people out there who appreciate your work but don’t tell you about it), trolls and their tendencies (such as compulsive, knee-jerk responses to tweets from a particular account), even doubts about what people use Twitter for (meaningful engagement v. mobilising political forces to affect outcomes offline).

That said, the popular rhetoric swirling around Chandrayaan 2 indicates that ISRO has finally been subsumed by the jingoists’ circus – where addled onlookers gather either to applaud or deride launches, trans-orbital manoeuvres and interplanetary journeys and, at the crack of imaginary whips, descend into a brawl over who can be a greater moron for love of the country. One can only hope, after being shoved to the back as a metaphorical wuss, that this rot hasn’t taken root within the organisation itself.

About Me

I’m a science editor and writer in India, interested in high-energy and condensed-matter physics, research misconduct, pseudoscience, science’s relationship with society, epic fantasy, open source/access/knowledge systems, H.R. Giger’s art, Goundamani’s comedy, Factorio, and most things that require a lot of time to get the hang of.