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World Science Day:

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A message to Inculcate Scientific Temper in Society

By Prof. Kirthi Tennakone
(ktenna@yahoo.co.uk)

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has proclaimed 10th November as the day for celebrating science – The World Science Day for Peace and Development. The proclamation aims to promote science in the society creating public awareness to exploit its virtues. The theme this year is “science with and for society “- implying wider participation of citizens in scientific endeavors and strengthening the engagement of science for social advancement, particularly to highlight how science deals with the COVID-19 pandemic

What is science?

To most of us, science means technological gadgetries or happenings like going to the moon. Actually it is much more than a means of providing material comforts and glamorous technological feats.

Science is fathoming principles operating in nature by observation, experiment and reasoning leading to generalizations or theories continuously tested and corrected to explain things and make predictions.

The above thought process or scientific method find equal relevance in gaining knowledge, analysis of existing ideas, planning and innovative design, decision making at all levels and matters of everyday life. The grasping the essence of scientific method, enlighten people to abandon ideologies, occultism and fundamentalism as baseless maleficent trends.

 

Universality of Science

Unlike other human affairs – science stands unique – not having color, caste or divisions based on geography and inherently secular. We have Western music and Eastern music, Western cooking and Eastern cooking, but not Western Science and Eastern Science. There is no elitism in science or in its practitioners- science sits in harmony with art, literature, ethics and virtuous politics. The intrinsic nature of science make it the mightiest force to unite the world. Unfortunately, for no fault of science, findings of science have been used for destruction, widening differences. Inequalities in access to sciences leads social disparity and geopolitical divisions. Recognizing necessity of addressing these issues, is an aspiration of the World Science Day.

Scientific Temper

The readiness of citizens to adopt scientific method is scientific temper. This quality drives societies towards progress – creating conditions conducive to innovation and wellbeing. The term ‘scientific temper’ was coined by Pandith Jawaharlal Nehru who elaborated the idea in his inspiring statement. “What is needed is the scientific approach, the adventurous and yet the critical temper of science, search for truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed facts and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind – all this is necessary, not merely for application of science but for life itself and solution of its problems”.

 

Nehru

The Constitution of India adopted the Nehru’s concept of scientific temper in its 42nd amendment declaring “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”

Today, inoculation of scientific temper in society and compelling the policy maker to adopt it is an urgency ever than before. The adherence to scientific method in all decisions and actions remain the only option available for us to face the challenge of the COVID pandemic.

Achievements of Science

Apart from being the progenitor of modern technology, science provided answers many puzzles confronting humanity – including ones highlighted below.

The cause of many diseases have determined, enabling design of efficacious remedies. Here, a finding relevant in today’s context is the fundamental understanding how viruses infect human body, which paved way for producing the first successful drug to combat a viral disease. American Chemist Gertrude Elion who showed that the drug named Acyclovir is effective in curing herpes and chickenpox, shared the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physiology. Gertrude work is a solace for humanity- an earnest hope, a cure for COVID-19 will be found.

Elion

The age-old problem how animals and plants inherit their characters was explained by Watson and Crick in terms of DNA. So-called PCR test for detecting COVID and gene editing – alteration of DNA for advantage are two of the thousands of applications of this discovery. This year chemistry Nobel Prize was awarded to two women scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier for the latter discovery

The Structure of matter up to tinier and tinier bits have been elucidated. Here, the existence of an elementary particle now named Higgs boson was predicted by Peter Higgs and two other physicists. The gigantic machine – Large Hadron Collider built in Geneva at a cost of 5 billion dollars confirmed prediction in 2012 – huge cost but zero-dollar immediate economic return! Why the machine was built at such a huge cost? It proved the correctness of one of the deepest conclusions of human intellect grasped decades earlier – a confidence to use science to face gravest challenges and look forward. The worth of this result and the message it passes to the society far exceeds the monetary cost- a minuscule compared to the costs of weapons development.

Likewise, the universe in excessively large expanses of space and time has been explored, revealing perplexing mysteries – pointing to the conclusion that space, time and matter originated 14 billion years ago as an explosion.

Science facilitates understanding, provokes curiosity and endless exploration – raises questions seeking answers- identify the potentialities of innovations and tells how to implement them. Hidden secrets and problems are there for future generations to explore and solve. Science tells how we should proceed in solving problems.

Evidently, recommendations or remedies coming from sources other than science – rituals or quackery will not mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Technology

Technology means making things to ease living or gain more knowledge. Ancients knew how to make tools and build civil engineering structures- this is empherical technology acquired by experience and trial and error improvement. Advent of science transformed ancient technology. Scientific concepts opened the door for designing and planning – delivering superior products far more quickly compared to empherical methods.

All modern technological achievements are outcomes of science progressing in different directions. For example, the techniques behind your smartphone is a consequence of a paradigm shift in science – birth of the quantum theory in early nineteen hundreds. It is extremely unlikely that someone to have invented a smartphone previously.

The most significant cause for revolutionary advancement in both science and technology has been use of technology purely for propose of gaining new knowledge. Galileo made telescopes and turned them to sky – beginning of observational astronomy. Since then the state-of –art technologies has been used make more powerful telescopes to unravel secrets of the cosmos. The Dutch lens maker and scientist Antoine Leeuwenhoek was first to see microbes by magnification. The subsequent adoption of newer technologies to design microscopes to see smaller entities; transformed medicine, biology and science of materials.

Science in developing nations

A major cause of weaknesses in developing countries owes much to the comparative deficiency of the scientific temper or readiness to grasp scientific method and adopt it freely and wisely.

Developing nations apparently support science considering it an essentiality for technological advancement and maintain a workforce of technicians and specialists. They pay less attention to educational, research and knowledge dissemination activities that engender scientific temper into the society. Generally a blind overemphasize of technological aspects of science expecting immediate economic returns – a counterproductive policy generally advocated by mediocrity among scientific community who misguide the politician.

Pandith Nehru, delivering a speech at the foundation ceremony of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Studies in 1954 has said “Lot of people may not know, why an emphasis is being put on science. Why so much money is spent? The big countries have more power while our country has remained poor. If we wish to empower our country, which is now independent, we have to create a strong base- so we can learn the basics. This may not show immediate results but finally result in uplift of the country”.

The present status of science and technology in India speaks volumes of the well-foundedness of Nehru’s prophecy

A primary reason why the nations continuing to be poor and failing to reap fruits of science is neglect of basics and essential foundations of technology. They entertain any fashion ending with the term ‘technology’- biotechnology, nanotechnology, communication technology etc., forgetting to cure deficiencies in older but essential disciplines. Sri Lanka is weak in chemical industry – raw materials exported without value addition. Yet there is a tendency to believe that nanotechnology would be the biggest hope for our industry. Science is a prerequisite to technology and establishing older a technology, is a prerequisite to newer technologies.

Example of Rwanda

Until late 1900s Rwanda was one of the most unfortunate nations in the world. Civil war killed nearly one million people, destroying the entire infrastructure. As Rwanda owes not much natural resources, the new government realized that the only path to wake-up would be to exploit science and technology. Rwandan President Paul Kagame invited the mathematical physicist Professor Romain Murenzi, a national of his country working in United States to serve as the Minister of Science. Murenzi drew up the policy on science, technology and innovation emphasizing both basic and applied aspects and the necessity of evidence based decision making in all affairs. Although Rwanda didn’t inherit a grandeur of an ancient culture to boast, the effectives of right policies are now visible – earning the credential “Africa’s Science and Tech Powerhouse “in a timeline of just two decades.

 

Useful and useless disciplines

All over the world, especially in developing countries there is a tendency to demarcate academic discipline into two categories – useful and useless. Arts, humanities and fundamental science in the latter category and technological and business studies in the former. Amanda Ruggeri an editor of BBC, in her essay titled “.Why worthless humanities degree may set you for life? ” state , education policies echoed around the world implicate – forget the liberal arts – non vocational degrees that include natural and social sciences, mathematics and humanities, such as history, philosophy and languages”. Science and arts enrich each other, they are not contrasting and every nation need takers of both and everybody benefits from acquaintance and appreciation these two cultures.

Science Curricula and Teaching: A Prevalent Trend

Today science curricula and teaching emphasize learning techniques, neglecting explanations as to how the techniques came to being. Syllabi are revised omitting thought provoking basics to accommodate technological stuff- believing these lead to technical competence necessary for generating innovations. It is pointless to introduce workings of an electron microscope into a school science curriculum without providing cheap ordinary optical microscopes to rural schools. Sometimes the optical microscope available in schools are locked-up in a cupboards. Rather than introducing complicated intricacies into a syllabus a child should be provided with an opportunity to see a bacterium through an ordinary microscope. Such an activity would turn him or her to a productive scientist or an innovator.

Diverting science towards technology is absolutely important. However every country needs to have universities and few institutions engaging in frontier areas of fundamental science. Unfortunately, these intuition grab technological themes in disguise of relevance, avoiding curiosity driven original investigation. Universities have academic freedom to choose their research themes but duty bound to absorb themselves in highest level intellectual pursuits for the shake of knowledge. Those few institutions should necessarily follow the mandated theme with gross deviations.

One of the most effective ways of introducing scientific attitude to a society would be to arouse curiosity. Developing countries need to strengthen research and education in fundamental science and highlight world’s achievements to motivate general public – particularly the younger who are more curious.

The benefit of science is not only finding ways to provide material needs to improve the quality of living but also the enrichment of the way of our thinking. The latter facilitates building the capacity to solve problems. Questions also arise as result of imagination and curiosity. Puzzles of this natures have paved the way towards ground breaking discoveries.

The most effective way to inculcate science into the society would be to highlight and popularize the intrinsic value of science as a thought process so powerful enough to resolve many issues, confronting the society. Such an approach will naturally drive the minds towards technological innovations.

The inculcation of scientific attitude into a society does not mean converting every citizen to a scientist. A society needs persons dedicated to their profession and varying individual interests, whether it farming, carpentry or stamp collecting. Yet exposing all of them to scientific method and motivation of its usage in appropriate occasions will pay the dividend.

 

 



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Port City Bill Requires Referendum

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by Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne,PC

The Colombo Port Economic Commission Bill was presented in Parliament on 08 April 2021, while the country was getting ready to celebrate the traditional New Year. With the intervening weekend and public holidays, citizens had just two working days to retain lawyers, many of whom were on vacation, and file applications challenging the constitutionality of the Bill in the Supreme Court within the one-week period stipulated in the Constitution. One wonders whether the timing was deliberate.

Special economic zones are common. They are created mainly to attract foreign investments. In return, investors are offered various concessions so that their products are competitive in the global market. Several negative effects of such zones have also been highlighted. The sole purpose of this article, however, is a discussion on the constitutionality of the Bill.

The Bill seeks to establish a high-powered Commission entrusted with the administration, regulation and control of all matters connected with businesses and other operations in and from the Colombo Port City. It may lease land situated in the Colombo Port City area and even transfer freehold ownership of condominium parcels. It operates as a Single Window Investment Facilitator for proposed investments into the Port City. It would exercise the powers and functions of any applicable regulatory authority under any written law and obtain the concurrence of the relevant regulatory authority, which shall, as a matter of priority, provide such concurrence to the Commission. The discretion and powers of such other authorities under the various laws shall thus stand removed.

The Commission consists of five members who need not be Sri Lankan citizens, quite unlike the Urban Development Authority, the Board of Management of which must comprise Sri Lankan citizens only. One issue that arises is that the vesting of such powers upon persons with loyalties to other countries, especially superpowers, would undermine the free, sovereign, and independent status of Sri Lanka guaranteed by Article 1 of our Constitution. It would also impinge on the sovereignty of the People of Sri Lanka guaranteed by Article 3 read with Article 4.

The removal of the discretionary powers of the various regulatory authorities is arbitrary and violative of the right to equal protection of the law guaranteed by Article 12 (1).

Under Clause 25, only persons authorized by the Commission can engage in business in the Port City. Clause 27 requires that all investments be in foreign currency only. What is worse is that even foreign currency deposited in an account in a Sri Lankan bank cannot be used for investment. Thus, Sri Lankans cannot invest in the Port City using Sri Lankan rupees; neither can they use foreign currency that they legally have in Sri Lanka. The above provisions are clearly arbitrary and discriminatory of Sri Lankans and violate equality and non-discrimination guaranteed by Article 12. They also violate the fundamental right to engage in business guaranteed by Article 14 (1) (g).

Under clause 35, any person, whether a resident or a non-resident, may be employed within the Port City and such employee shall be remunerated in a designated foreign currency, other than in Sri Lanka rupees. Such employment income shall be exempt from income tax. Clause 36 provides that Sri Lankan rupees accepted within the Port City can be converted to foreign currency. Under clause 40, Sri Lankans may pay for goods, services, and facilities in Sri Lankan rupees but would be required to pay a levy for goods taken out of the Port City, as if s/he were returning from another country! The mere repetition of phrases such as ‘in the interests of the national economy’ throughout the Bill like a ‘mantra’ does not bring such restrictions within permissible restrictions set out in Article 15.

Clause 62 requires that all disputes involving the Commission be resolved through arbitration. The jurisdiction of Sri Lankan courts is thus ousted.

In any legal proceedings instituted on civil and commercial matters, where the cause of action has arisen within the Port City or in relation to any business carried on in or from the Port City, Clause 63 requires Sri Lankan courts to give such cases priority and hear them speedily on a day-to-day basis to ensure their expeditious disposal.

The inability of an Attorney-at-Law to appear before the court even for personal reasons, such as sickness, shall not be a ground for postponement. These provisions are arbitrary and violate Article 12.

Clause 73 provides that several Sri Lankan laws listed in Schedule III would have no application within the Port City. Such laws include the Urban Development Authority Act, Municipal Councils Ordinance, and the Town and Country Planning Ordinance. Under Clauses 52 and 53, exemptions may be granted by the Commission from several laws of Sri Lanka, including the Inland Revenue Act, Betting and Gaming Levy Act, Foreign Exchange Act, and the Customs Ordinance.

The Commission being empowered to grant exemptions from Sri Lankan laws undermines the legislative power of the People and of Parliament and violates Articles 3 and Article 4 (c) of the Constitution.

Several matters dealt with by the Bill come under the Provincial Councils List. They include local government, physical planning, and betting and gaming. Article 154G (3) requires that such a Bill be referred to Provincial Councils for their views. As Provincial Councils are not currently constituted, passage by a two-thirds majority will be necessary in the absence of the consent of the Provincial Councils.

The exclusion of the Municipal Councils Ordinance from the Port City area is not possible under the Constitution. When the Greater Colombo Economic Commission was sought to be established in 1978 under the 1972 Constitution, a similar exclusion was held by the Constitutional Court not to be arbitrary. Since then, under the Thirteenth Amendment under the 1978 Constitution, local government has been given constitutional recognition and included under the Provincial Council List. Under the present constitutional provisions, therefore, the Port City cannot be excluded from laws on local government.

The writer submits that in the above circumstances, the Colombo Port Economic Commission Bill requires to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the People at a Referendum. Quite apart from the constitutional issues that arise, such an important piece of proposed legislation needs to be widely discussed. It is best that the Bill is referred to a Parliamentary Committee before which the public, as well as citizens’ organizations and experts in the related fields, could make their submissions.

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Investigative Journalism?

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I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!

 

 

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The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants

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Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

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