Our Education System Needs a Grand Revival

First it was Greeks and then the Romans. Islamic civilization took their work and passed it onto the West with plenty of additions of their own. Chinese and African civilizations also had their heydays in the past. So, the industrial revolution was as a result of collective efforts of almost the whole humanity until that time. The enablers of the scientific thought and discoveries were the men and women of intellect who had been educated, trained and taught to think differently and creatively. Whichever civilization and society allowed, invested and made a culture of critical thinking and analysis became the front runner in the path of knowledge and discovery. Education was the key. And it will remain so for further growth and development. Now if we look at it in the context of today’s scientific and industrial advancements with all the buzz around Industry 4.0, one can wonder if our education systems are good enough. What is it that we should be learning/teaching a

A Viral Epidemic in Waiting and How to Avert It: Embracing Materials Virology

The flu vaccine this year in the US has only been 36% effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with several thousand human fatalities reported so far. US is going through one of its worst flu seasons in recent times. The devil is the dreaded flu strain, H3N2. Influenza claims 290000 to 650000 human lives worldwide annually (World Health Organization). Flu vaccines are modified each year according to strain predictions. Defense mechanism in the strains can, however, overcome these vaccines. In general, influenza viruses have high mutation rates, a fact that has, so far, kept the arrival of a universal flu vaccine at bay. If the above does not scare you (I am sure it does!), let us talk about ‘zombie pathogens’. Imagine giant, complex viruses that thrived freely on life forms several thousands of years ago, but have been hibernating ever since in the polar caps. Modern lifeforms, including us, have not interacted with these pathogens leaving

Is Social Media Destroying Society?

I come from India. Decades ago, the Indian village life and culture was characterized by the simple and meek village folk gathering around a banyan tree, of which every village would proudly boast of, and discuss ‘global’ matters. The matters would encircle the local agriculture, the overall village health, neighbors, families, politics, and the like. These sittings, or ‘panchayats’ as they were called, had a social aspect. One could often see the village folk behaving and acting as a cumulative whole, as a well-knit extended family. The discussions though often lacked the bigger picture: what were the latest trends in science and technology and what was new in geopolitics? Things soon began to change with the younger generations seeking greener pastures and leaking into the adjoining cities. Globalization further punctured the village borders. Younger generation soon found itself at crossroads: one path led to the ancestral lands, memories and culture that shaped and molded it;

Is There a ‘Bad Science’?

Should we clone human beings? Should we research into immortality? Will that be a right thing to do?  Was inventing morphine a bad thing? What about invention of computers, television, internet, rockets, sleeping pills etc.? How about discovery of radioactivity? In fact, about any scientific discovery or invention. For example, did the inventor of television ever think about the social impact it will have? Did he consider the time-wasting capability of this device? How about the guy who came up with the cigarettes and tobacco? Did he consider that he was inventing new ways for people to die? Can we argue in the hindsight: if it was a good idea to invent such a thing? Did the guy who invented computers consider the disruptive nature of this device in the job market? Did the inventers think about any ethical issues associated with their inventions and discoveries? Even more fundamental question is: if they should have considered the side effects of these inventions. Even if they did

How to Spread a Lie and Other ‘Useful’ Skills in Postnormal Times?

37% of Americans don’t believe in global warming. Half of those that believe in global warming don’t believe it is man-made. Although, recent extremities in the weather, the recent bomb cyclone Grayson, Hurricane Katrina etc. do point out towards global warming as the cause. The wording used in these two statements are very typical. Now the first problem with these statements is the word ‘believe’. Global warming can be scientifically proven. So, can the scientific facts become beliefs and is there a problem with that? The difference between beliefs and scientific ‘facts’ is that beliefs have no scientific proofs. If the scientific ‘facts’ become beliefs than they are considered true even if new scientific evidence proves them wrong. This can be used to an advantage if it allows someone to make a gain. If a scientific fact is inconvenient for you, then make the whole thing an issue of beliefs and take the science out of equation. Global warming is indeed a scientifically provable or d

Bomb Cyclone of 3rd Jan, 2018: Who Ordered That?

My phone rang. It was a cold and dark afternoon of 3 rd Jan, 2018. An agent of American Solar was interested in helping me explore some of the solar roofing options provided by the company. A green alternative to the non-renewable heating sources of today, I thought, as I glanced outside the window. The city was bracing up to welcome the much-feared blizzard – the 2018 bomb cyclone. The phone chat did not last long, being meant for those who owned a private house. Shortly after, the East Coast was hit with gusts of cold winds sweeping through cities and freezing humanity to a standstill. Bomb cyclones are characterized by sudden steep drops in pressure (the ‘bomb’ effect), leading to a drastic influx of cold air from neighboring regions (such as northern Canada, in the present case). These cold gusts bring snow and result in severe weather conditions. The pressure drop for the current storm is the highest in the last 10 years, suggesting a severely intense cyclone. This and many

Millennials in the Postnormal World

The present epoch is characterized by technological developments happening at a breath-taking pace. Human knowledge doubling, which used to occur every 100 years until the beginning of 20 th century, now happens every 13 months. IBM projects this doubling to happen every 12 hours in near future thanks to the breakneck speed at which big data can be collected, processed and interpreted. The speed of developments that the early- and mid-20 th century generations witnessed – in the ‘normal’ times – appears to be a distant turtle pace to us, the postnormal millennials.  Breakthroughs in information technology have transformed the world into a cyber room. Social media keeps us abreast of all the happenings worldwide. Big data transfer is possible at lightening speeds, opening a plethora of opportunities. It is not impossible anymore for one to become an overnight phenomenon simply by posting a video from one’s mobile phone on social media. The frenzy can transform one into a millio

The Post-Modern Industrial Revolution is here

Man living in caves used to spend almost all of his/her time to support his/her survival and existence. There was no assurance of food, shelter or the life itself. We have evolved as humans to the point where we are willing to give up around 1/3 rd of our day so we could spend the remaining time comfortably and fulfill our needs. Will this hold in the future too? Will we work to live or will there be an opportunity to fulfill any higher purposes in our lives than to support our mere existence? How will technological advancements affect this? Let us analyse how the current system operates. The market system is based on one-person meeting needs of another and getting paid for his/her services and pay others to get their services. The cycle goes on. Although it has increased in complexity, but the overall system has not changed considerably. For example, people employed in the industry get paid by the owner of the factory for their services/labour which he/she earns through selling t