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CORRESPONDENCE Astrology and science We scientists from the scientific/aca- there? If a star disturbs my life, it would completely against well-established science demic community in the so-called ‘elite’ not be worth a cent’. Finally we would is indeed very unwise and wasteful. institutes have once again shown our like to add that two of our great scientists I once knew an individual who had customary apathy in not coming forth of yesteryear, Meghnad Saha and C. V. blisters all over the body – a probable to preempt the UGC’s attempt to start Raman had expressed utter contempt for consequence of infrequent baths and mal- courses in vaastushastra and astrology. this pseudo-science. nutrition. He went away to get a ‘treat- Despite several newspaper reports and a ment’ for his skin problem. I learnt that clarion call given by P. Balaram in his ALLADI SITARAM (Indian Statistical the treatment consisted of pasting the excellent editorial (Curr. Sci., 2000, 79, Institute, Bangalore), M. DELAMPADY entire body with the waste removed from 1139–1140) we were too apathetic (timid?) (ISI), JISHNU BISWAS (ISI), G. MISRA the intestines of slaughtered goats! It is to challenge the UGC on this issue. The (ISI), S. RAMASUBRAMANIAN (ISI), T. S. possible that this treatment was effective. scientists in these so-called elite insti- S. R. K. RAO (ISI), VISHWAMBHAR P ATI However, I doubt if any self-respecting tutes do not really have to depend on the (ISI); T. A. ABINANDAN (Indian Institute of scientist will undertake a statistical ana- support of the UGC and there is no Science, Bangalore), B. ANANTHANARAYAN lysis of the efficacy of such treatments. reason for their timidity! Recently some (IISc), ARNAB RAI CHOUDHURI (IISc), Similar comments hold for many activi- scientists have been registering strong ATUL CHOKSI (IISc), K. G. AYAPPA ties that are commonplace, including protests. But alas, it may be too late now. (IISc), BINNY CHERAYIL (IISc), S. K. astrology and palmistry. The UGC has actually passed a resolution BISWAS (IISc), K. GOPINATH (IISc), Funding agencies in India, in their giving legitimacy to such courses and V. JAYARAM (IISc), P. R. NOTT (IISc), unfortunate generous moments, have sup- many universities may well be forced to RAM SESHADRI (IISc), S. RAMASESHA ported ‘Pseudo science’ projects such as start them in July. Some of the scientists (IISc), RUDRA P RATAP (IISc), D. P. effect of music on plants and geomag- at the Indian Statistical Institute have SENGUPTA (IISc), M. S. SHAILA (IISc), netism and human health, with disastrous written a letter of protest to the UGC. We VASANT NATARAJAN (IISc); Y. HATWALNE consequences. It is not lack of open urge academicians at other institutes to (Raman Research Institute, Bangalore), mindedness or intolerance that prompts follow suit. MADAN RAO (RRI), J. SAMUEL (RRI); us to criticize allocation of resources, Instead of trying to start courses in K. R. SREENIVAS (Jawaharlal Nehru Centre manpower and monetary, for astrology or astrology, etc. which will surely take us for Advanced Scientific Research), SRIKANTH palmistry. The opposition is based on back to the dark ages, our educators SASTRY (JNCASR); S. Chatterjee (Indian sane scientific sense. If a ‘guru’ claims should perhaps think of having a course Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore); that he could levitate, the evidence he on ‘Indian heritage’, designed so as to K. H. PARANJAPE (Institute of Mathematical provides should exceed the totality of salute the wonderful contributions that Sciences, Chennai) experience of countless experiments that we have inherited from all the different have been carried out since Newton! In communities in India in the fields of north Karnataka, a black magic called music, art, mathematics, astronomy (not ‘Banamathi’ is a source of terror. It does astrology!), etc. and also what has been not make sense to initiate a scientific passed on to us by the many tribal This is in response to K. N. Ganeshaiah’s study of Banamathi as a means of des- communities who have peopled this land letter published in Current Science (2001, troying people and homes, although the for centuries. 80, 719–720). It is indisputable that we social psychology that provides fertile We do not want to waste our time nor should have freedom of speech and free ground for such black magic could the readers’, in rebutting point by point access to knowledge. After all, that is the indeed be scientifically investigated. the long rambling letter by K. N. Gane- premise on which science functions and shaiah (Curr. Sci., 2001, 80, 719–720). its remarkable self-correcting power ori- M. R. N. MURTHY We think serious scientists should spend ginates. However, scientific work is not time on serious science rather than res- arbitrary. At any given time in the history Molecular Biophysics Unit, ponding to such letters! Since he has of science, there are definitive problems Indian Institute of Science, unnecessarily dragged in the name of the which are lurking in the minds of experts Bangalore 560 012, India great Indian statistician C. R. Rao, we that are about to find expression. That is e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org can perhaps cite other anecdotes to why it is legitimately claimed that if the establish that C. R. Rao has no belief in great Rutherford was not in the scientific astrology. We suggest that our scientific arena, atomic physics would perhaps have colleague Ganeshaiah look at the excel- been delayed at the most by an year! It is lent book by S. Balachandra Rao (Astro- not to deny that there are no blind alleys In an article published in Current Science logy, Believe It or Not, Nava Karnataka or cul-de-sacs in science. However, it is (2001, 80, 719–720) K. N. Ganeshaiah Press), where he describes and then possible to identify problems that are pleads that astrology and palmistry should proceeds to debunk this pseudo-science either totally outside the scope of science be allowed into university curricula. and ends with a quote of Swami Viveka- or outright meaningless. Investing public The title of the article ‘An unscientific nanda. ‘Let stars come, what harm is money or resource on activities that go way to bury astrology’ hints that he 1088 CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 80, NO. 9, 10 MAY 2001 CORRESPONDENCE knows how to bury astrology in a scien- they are already doing with biotechno- is, he mockingly asks, ‘Are art and tific way, but does not want to reveal it. logy, information technology and bio- literature scientific?’ Art and literature Throughout the article he protests too informatics) to attract funding and students. are cultivated for their aesthetic value, much, is understandably ambivalent and Many departments of zoology were chri- not because of their scientific value. But equivocates, and the imagery of death of stened over-night as departments of astrology claims to be a science. Its claims astrology and burial recurs. ‘. . . these microbial technology in our universities. are belied because (a) its premises are subjects are perhaps dying due to neglect But I am digressing. I am only surprised false, (b) its approach is at variance with by guardians of the new schools of that Ganeshaiah is vehement in making the tenets of the scientific method, and knowledge. Before we hit the last nails his point when he knows, as well as I do, (c) it does not grow like other sciences on the coffins of these subjects . . .’ and that superstitions die hard. Have not by the self-corrective method adopted by so on. Again ‘even considering it is unscien- astrology and palmistry survived all these science. tific . . . why should anyone hesitate to centuries and do they need to be defen- Its premises are absurd as it is based study astrology?’. The author also remarks ded in the pages of a mere science journal? on geocentric astronomy. It looks upon that history, art and literature are not Ganeshaiah is in excellent company, for sun (a star), moon (a satellite) ‘Rahu’ and science subjects, but are being taught in most scientists in India are undercover ‘Kethu’ (points in space) as planets, universities. astrologers and will be only too happy if while it ignores planets like Uranus and One would have thought, especially in palmistry, astrology, etc. are at last given Neptune which are massive and also Bangalore, that astrology was being seri- academic respectability. Pluto, not to mention the asteroids. ously studied and believed by a worri- Its method is unscientific because the somely lot of people. Every newborn M. K. CHANDRASHEKARAN supposed effects of planetary positions child in a family has its horoscope on men are not arrived at on carefully cast. The late founder editor of the Evolutionary and Organismal Biology Unit, collected empirical data. Questions are astrology journal often used to lecture in Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for not raised as to why and how planetary the Department of Mathematics at the Advanced Scientific Research, positions produce the effects attributed to Madurai Kamaraj University, when the P.O. Box No. 6436, Jakkur, them. No hypothesis or theory has been topologist M. Venkataraman was there. Bangalore 560 064, India proposed to explain the effects of plane- So what is Ganeshaiah talking about? e-mail: email@example.com tary positions on human beings. Possibly about the editorial on the In the absence of any hypothesis or subject in Current Science (2000, 79, theory, the question of checking their 1139–1140). Then why is he neglecting validity does not arise and so all roads occult science, voodoo, black magic, to growth by the self-corrective proce- seance and other such fascinating dure are blocked. subjects? Tycho Brahe (1546–1601), I am surprised to note that K. N. Gane- Ganeshaiah quotes C. R. Rao to make Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) and shaiah (Curr. Sci., 2001, 80, 719–720) is the point that there must be something in Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) also ‘disturbed’ by the editorial in Current astrology: ‘Among 3458 soldiers Jupiter practised some magic besides their serious Science (2000, 79, 1139–1140) express- is to be found 703 times, either rising or work. But those were times when women ing concern at the efforts of the Gov- culminating when they were born. were first branded as witches and then ernment of India and UGC to introduce Chance predicts this should be 572’. If he were burnt at the stake. Are Brahe, astrology in Indian universities. On the thinks that the figures are very telling, I Copernicus and Kepler today remem- other hand, I am disturbed that Indian suggest that he calculates the chances of bered today for the magic they practised? scientists have not protested, in one all the 80,000-odd horoscopes of 80,000- Whoever protested against Indian or voice, against efforts to accord this kind odd citizens of a single city pointing to a Hindu heritage studies? All the great of respectability to astrology. particular day and time of death. Such a Indologists like D. D. Kosambi, A. L. Ganeshaiah’s main contention seems to thing happened on 6 August 1945 in Basham, Helmut Glasenap, Paul Thieme be that we should not make ‘a body of Hiroshima. The ‘miracle’ repeated three and Max Mueller have been always held knowledge’ unavailable to ‘willing stu- days later in the city of Nagasaki. in high esteem. dents’. There are several such ‘bodies of It was not without good reason that the For all we know there might indeed be knowledge’ such as phrenology, numero- eminent mathematician, David Hilbert universities which might offer to teach logy, omenology (I have seen a book of said, ‘When you collect the ten wisest astrology and palmistry in lieu of botany about 200 pages in Kannada on Halli men of the world and ask them to find the and zoology, which is not a bad idea at Shakuna, omens related to house lizards), most stupid thing in existence, they will all. Everyone can identify trees such as etc. not available to ‘willing students’. not be able to find anything stupider than the neem, banyan, mango, cashew, may- Universities are not expected to squander astrology’. flower and pine without having to study their resources to make available useless botany for six or more years. Even philo- and patently absurd ‘bodies of know- J. R. LAKSHMANA RAO sophers can tell apart a bat from a frog, ledge’ and thereby encourage superstition or a roach from a beetle. These days our in young minds. ‘Maithri’, XII Main, universities are in such bad shape that Ganeshaiah has doubts as to whether Saraswathipura, they will gladly teach any subject (like astrology is really unscientific. Granted it Mysore 570 009, India CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 80, NO. 9, 10 MAY 2001 1089
"Astrology and science"