On resource constraints and merit

In the face of complaints about how so few women have been awarded this year’s Swarnajayanti Fellowships in India, some scientists pushed back asking which of the male laureates who had been selected should have been left out instead. This is a version of the merit argument commonly applied to demands for reservation and quota in higherContinue reading “On resource constraints and merit”

A great discussion on the history of India’s tech.

On February 27, the Bangalore International Centre and Carnegie India hosted a panel discussion around Midnight Machines, the new book by Arun Mohan Sukumar that traces the interplay of technology and politics in independent India (read The Wire Science‘s review here). The panelists were Arun (my friend and former colleague at The Hindu), space entrepreneurContinue reading “A great discussion on the history of India’s tech.”

A meeting with the PSA’s office

The Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) organised a meeting with science communicators from around India on January 27, in New Delhi. Some of my notes from the meeting are displayed below, published with three caveats. First, my notes are not to be treated as the minutes of the meeting; I only jotted downContinue reading “A meeting with the PSA’s office”

My country is burning. Why should I work?

A few days ago, I found asking myself the following question: My country is burning, why should I work? I ended up with some (admittedly inchoate) thoughts, delineated below. I’m trying to fight off this abject helplessness I’m feeling and edit some science articles, and failing. I’m not able to justify to myself why IContinue reading “My country is burning. Why should I work?”

Playing the devil’s advocate on Starlink

After SpaceX began to launch its Starlink satellite constellation to facilitate global internet coverage, astronomers began complaining that the satellites are likely to interfere with stargazing schemes, especially those of large, sensitive telescopes. Spaceflight stakeholders also began to worry, especially after SpaceX’s announcement that the Starlink constellation is in fact the precursor to a mega-constellationContinue reading “Playing the devil’s advocate on Starlink”

The virtues and vices of reestablishing contact with Vikram

There was a PTI report yesterday that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is still trying to reestablish contact with the Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan 2 mission. The lander had crashed onto the lunar surface on September 7 instead of touching down. The incident severed its communications link with ISRO ground control, leaving theContinue reading “The virtues and vices of reestablishing contact with Vikram”

The mission that was 110% successful

Caution: Satire. On October 2, Kailash S., the chairman of the Indian Wonderful Research Organisation (IWRO), announced that the Moonyaan mission had become a 110% success. At an impromptu press conference organised inside the offices of India Day Before Yesterday, he said that the orbiter was performing exceptionally well and that a focus on its secondaryContinue reading “The mission that was 110% successful”

The alleged politicisation of science

“Don’t politicise X” has become the defence of choice for a class of scientists and public intellectuals in India whose class and caste privilege utterly blinds them to various inequities in the practice of science – as privilege is wont to do – and who labour with the presumption that these inequities, should they miraculouslyContinue reading “The alleged politicisation of science”

Chandrayaan 2 and the Left

Since after September 7, when the Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan 2 mission failed to touchdown on the lunar surface, many writers and thinkers on the political left have been adopting a stance of the mission I find hard to stomach. Their arguments can be summed up thus: that CY-2’s mission is half-assed and shouldContinue reading “Chandrayaan 2 and the Left”

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 himContinue reading “The fight over ISRO”

The PM’s Chandrayaan group-hug

I understand Dutt’s interpretation of the moment in question but with reservations about what it signals for the nation’s many oppressed. For starters, how many people actually gave a damn? A few hundred people – many of them mainstream journalists – have been saying that over a billion people did, or should. But even ifContinue reading “The PM’s Chandrayaan group-hug”

Moon, mission and Modi

Should Prime Minister Narendra Modi not have been in the control room during the autonomous descent phase of Chandrayaan 2? Did his presence exert unnecessary pressure on the ISRO scientists? I don’t know if the pressure was unnecessary. Irrespective of who was present where, a decade-long, Rs-1,000-crore effort is going to be high-pressure when itContinue reading “Moon, mission and Modi”