Throwing Scientific Temper out of the window

“ಸೋರುತಿಹುದು ಮನೆಯ ಮಾಳಿಗಿ, ಅಜ್ಞಾನದಿಂದ… ಸೋರುತಿಹುದು ಮನೆಯ ಮಾಳಿಗಿ!”

ಸಂತ ಶಿಶುನಾಳ ಶರೀಫ

This is a Kannada folk song written by Santa Shishunala Sharifa in the mid 19th century when India experienced an epidemic of Bubonic plague. In the song, he advises people to be sensible about the disease. He shares insights on the importance of keeping the surroundings hygienic to avoid infestation by disease-carrying rodents. He does this because the general public panics and the only solution they see is fleeing from their villages. This is one of my favourite songs. I admire Sharifa’s scientific temper in educating the general public.

Recent events:

As I reflected on the knowledge hidden in this song and the public panic surrounding recent events, I was inspired to write this article.

A million shares of news about the Coronavirus, half a million memes and insensitive jokes, and a horrified society. A sensible analysis of the Coronavirus situation tells us this – a segment of the population sharing the care and the rest trying to scare.

Historical evidence suggests that ignorance is better than half-baked knowledge. Let’s look at a few instances that perpetrate half-baked knowledge.

  1. YouTube videos showing a cure for Coronavirus – whichever form of medicine they claim, has no scientific evidence that the claim is true.
  2. Companies in Bangalore declare holiday to avoid the spread of the virus
  3. Someone in authority says – cow dung and cow urine can cure the infection from Coronavirus – There is no scientific evidence of this. Moreover, by doing so, you may be subjecting yourself to many other infections and diseases.
  4. A Homeopathic medicine claiming to cure Coronavirus – This was a rumor spread probably to just sell this medicine by riding the panic wave of the citizens. Newspapers debunked this atrocious claim multiple times

It is funny that there are million of views and followers for all these news items. Also, no one from any medical or research centre is this popular. Wonder what kind of society I am living in!

Then, there is this news that Bangaloreans have decided to stay away from Chinese restaurants. Hilarious, although disturbing! Why these senseless collective reactions?

This says a lot about us as a society. A society that believes in whatever the early-morning star sign prediction tells them. A society that blindly believes anyone who uses a few terms from a science book and claims they are scientific. More dangerously, a society that follows these instructions and makes life decisions.

Steps to take:

As a devout science practitioner, I wish to share a few lines of thought about accepting anything from a media source.

  1. Who is sharing the news? – it takes less than 5 minutes to verify the source of news today. Yes, Google! As much as Google disseminates news, it can also help check the source and authenticity.
  2. If it is from the ministry of education / public health / relevant and concerned authority, then give it some additional thought.

Let us examine the hard facts of Coronavirus:

  1. It originated from China and has infected around 100,000 people around the globe.
  2. Coronavirus is a virus found in animals, mutated to humans from bats and in between to some other animals too.
  3. The majority (~80%) of the cases are in China
  4. Spreads through contact and very rarely by air. Can also spread by contaminated surfaces when they are touched
  5. Old people and people with low immunity are more suseptible
  6. Has a relatively low mortality rate (~3%) – compared to other epidemic viruses
  7. There are many cases of recovery.
  8. No Antibiotic can cure this virus; antibiotics can only cure bacterial infections

This tells us that the virus is not deadly, and the human body has the capability to fight it. Early isolation and treatment is the key. So, if you have any symptoms, it is wise to get yourself checked and tested.

Spreading the right message:

Why then are we falling prey to whatever is shared on social media? Is it because we just need a break from whatever we are doing at a given moment? Or are we so stupid that anything on social media just makes us crazy?

It is important that we ask relevant questions about things that impact our lives. As an educated group of people, it is even more important that we behave in a manner that doesn’t panic children and the uninitiated around us. Unfortunately, today kids are prone to seek Google’s help for everything, without a better understanding of how to make sense of the available information.

As an educator, I feel it the responsibility of the education community to show others how to understand the situation. And then decide when to respond and when to react. It is especially imperative now since these are times of misinformation pervading the internet.

I hope this article has helped you put things in perspective. Please use the insights shared here to communicate to your family and friends who are caught up in the frenzy about the virus and its impact.

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Sriraghavan S M

Sriraghavan S M

Sriraghavan (Raghu) is an Astronomer by qualification (MSc, Astronomy, Bangalore University) and a teacher by passion. He is a trained counsellor and psychotherapist. His firm belief and conviction to transform the education system in India led him to be an entrepreneur through NumberNagar®. His core work at NumberNagar® revolves around product presentations, academic content, and training. He teaches Maths and Science to young students, rubbing off his passion to them. He trains teachers as well, inspiring them to better themselves. He has taught Physics in educational institutes, during his early career days. He has travelled extensively all over Karnataka, training teachers and popularising Astronomy. He advocates multiple intelligence and is constantly on the lookout for new things to learn. He is ambidextrous and enjoys sketching. He was an avid cricket player in his younger days. He is an enthusiastic biker and uses long solo motorcycle rides as means of reflection and rejuvenation.

2 Replies to “Throwing Scientific Temper out of the window”

  1. Very neatly written Raghavan, liked the way you connected the situation to Shishunala Sharif’s lines Definitely this write-up is a food for thought for everyone.

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