Funding for S&T in India Very Low Compared to Other Emerging Economies
| Dr. Roopinder Oberoi - 27 Dec 2018

India’s S&T is suffering from Dominance

of a Technocratic Culture: Dr. Miltos Ladikas

 

Exclusive Conversation with Dr. Miltos Ladikas

 

by Dr. Roopinder Oberoi & Pooran Chandra Pandey

New Delhi, Dec 27, 2018: "Jawaharlal Nehru, has famously asked citizens to develop a scientific temper and stated that “the future belongs to those who make friends with science”. His stance reflected a deep-seated cultural perspective that puts a high value to education. And indeed, India has developed into a hot-spot of S&T developments in key areas such as ICT and Pharmaceuticals. On the other hand, funding in terms of GDP expenditure on S&T in India is very low compared to other emerging economies. Similarly, funding for the study of ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of S&T is almost negligible. It is clear that there is a dominance of a technocratic culture based on quantitative input, that is not well suited to the needs of an aware and demanding citizen as is the case nowadays. For instance, developments in both areas of big data and blockchain services will depend on social acceptance that should not be taken for granted," says Dr. Miltos Ladikas, a senior researcher at the KIT, Berlin, one of the leading German Government’s funded and supported think tanks, was in Delhi recently for his meetings with the government of India representatives and think tanks on issues of strengthening India - EU partnerships in areas of science and technology. 

On the sidelines of his Delhi meetings, Dr. Roopinder Oberoi, teaching faculty, Department of Political Science, Delhi University and Pooran Chandra Pandey, founding CEO, DOC Research Institute caught up with Dr. Miltos Ladikas to understand the role of science and technology in context of India – European Union bilateral relationships in a contemporary world in a freewheeling conversation.

Here are the excerpts of conversation: 

Q1. There is a recent conclusion of a science and technology project between Germany, India and China? What have been some of the key learning?

We have done a number of projects comparing the S&T of India, China and Europe. We have focused on social, economic and environmental aspects of S&T developments. The motivation for our efforts is the fact that, although our countries have a number of scientific collaborations covering the whole range of disciplines and technological developments, there has been very little analysis of the different approaches taken and their effects in society at local and global level.

A recent focus of our work has been the area of ethics and how it has been incorporated in the decision making structures in India, China and Europe. In short, what is ethical and unethical in each country? How is it decided? Who is involved in this decision? How are governments embedding ethics in the decision making? What are best practices and how can we learn from each other?

These are a series of questions that we have attempted to answer. A key aspect in our work is the analysis of the dominant values in each society. These are values that are evident in official documents (e.g. supranational treaties, national constitutions, S&T strategies, etc.) and in the perceptions that people have on various S&T issues (evident through public surveys, whenever available).

Q2. What role do you see of India playing in key global technological developments, given the global footprint that the country has in areas like big data, informational technology and block chain revolution?

I have collaborated for a number of years with Indian colleagues but I wouldn’t consider myself as an expert in Indian S&T. Nevertheless, I would say that I have a good idea of what is happening in the country and I see some paradoxes. The first prime minister of India,  Jawaharlal Nehru, has famously asked citizens to develop a scientific temper  and  stated that “the future belongs to those who make friends with science”. His stance reflected, in my opinion, a deep-seated cultural perspective that puts a high value to education. And indeed, India has developed into a hot-spot of S&T developments in key areas such as ICT and Pharmaceuticals.

On the other hand, funding in terms of Gross Domestic Product expenditure on S&T in India is very low compared to other emerging economies. Similarly, funding for the study of ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of S&T is almost negligible. India's spending on R&D in terms of percentage of GDP has been stagnant at 0.6 to 0.7 per cent in the last two decades -- much lower than the US, China, South Korea and Israel, as per the Economic Survey, 2018.

It is clear that there is a dominance of a technocratic culture based on quantitative input, that is not well suited to the needs of an aware and demanding citizen as is the case nowadays. For instance, developments in both areas of big data and blockchain services will depend on social acceptance that should not be taken for granted. The S&T policy system has the responsibility to hear and react to the needs of ordinary citizens as a building stone for the economic success of the country’s S&T sector.

Q3. How can Europe and India strengthen its partnerships in science and tech domains? What are some of the key challenges and potential opportunities?

There is considerable potential for collaboration between Europe and India in S&T. There is already an exponential growth in the number of collaborative projects in the last two-three decades and there is no reason why this trend should diminish. There are good reasons for this. In my opinion, the single most significant one is the shared values that our cultures possess. Since ancient times, India and Europe were in contact and have developed an instinctive understanding of each other's norms and aspirations.

Indian colleagues have little difficulty in adapting to European S&T systems and vice versa. Unlike with other Asian colleagues, when collaborating with India, we usually do not have to spend as much time trying to understand each other’s terminology or working system. Our S&T conceptual framework is interchangeable and therefore, there is little wonder why India is so good in exporting services to Europe. What works for the Indian consumer, works usually also for the European one.

In terms of TA, the Indian government has attempted to institutionalise it, over the past 20 years, with a creation of some very good research centres. For instance, the Technology Information, Forecasting and  Assessment Council  (TIFAC), the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTAD), or the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), are doing great work in the area.

Q4. What is your overall personal experience of Technology Impact Assessment and various techniques applied?

TA is a very interesting and exciting undertaking. It deals with new ideas, new developments, and future possibilities. It studies the cutting edge of global S&T and gives us, as TA practitioners, a unique view into the future. We have developed techniques to assess the future consequences of current developments. It is like seeing ahead with binoculars; You have the privilege and the responsibility to know what is coming our society’s way and act accordingly. As the saying goes: forewarned is forearmed.

But the truth is that TA can only be really effective under certain preconditions. Not every policy system can be fertile ground for it. To start with, even the best assessment can be useless, if the policy cannot or has no interest in understanding it. Dogma, ideology or corruption will always be barren earth for the development of TA. It can only flourish in an environment, that allows for free debate, has a genuine interest in the welfare of the citizenry and prioritises rationality over ideology. Once we get this environment, we have the necessary techniques to perform excellent assessments.

Q5. There is anti-climax to the fact that the US started with the Technology Impact Assessment concepts and Europe subsequently adopted the concept? What has changed over time?

A lot has changed since the US Congress established and subsequently abolished the Office of Technology Assessment. TA has flourished in Europe, incorporating participatory methodologies whereby a wide range of stakeholders are able to take part in the assessment process. Civil Society Organisations are nowadays key stakeholders in S&T debates and as such are also a legitimate part of the TA process. This reflects the changing dynamics of the modern societies that have become much more informed about S&T developments and more interactive in social debates. This reality cannot be disregarded in policy making, whether dealing with S&T or any other policy issue.

Q6. Where do you find Europe in context of Assessment tools and techniques and advantages that Europe has had over the period?

As mentioned above, European TA is more inclusive and interactive than the original model developed in the USA. There are a number of methodologies and techniques that have been developed in Europe to account for this new type of TA. These range from citizens’ juries, to consensus conferences, to scenario workshops, etc. all of them designed to incorporate a wide range of perspectives that represent the public debates as they actually take place.

There is a tendency to call this a more “democratic” S&T decision-making model. I would call it simply more comprehensive. Even less “democratic” systems can benefit from having more inclusion in their assessment processes. After all, citizens are the core of every standard governance system and their perspectives must be heard or there will certainly be a reaction.

Q7. How do you put the values as key determinants for future technological advancements?

Values are the building blocks of behaviour and as such, are behind all decisions that we take at any point in time. S&T is not an exception. S&T strategies are based on social values and so is the direction of development. We have done some work comparing the values systems in Europe, India and China and their incorporation in S&T policy. We found a direct link between values and S&T developments at the national level but also interesting results when it comes to comparing the various value systems.

Despite the first impressions that show incompatible values amongst the various cultures, we found certain compatibility when seen as a “continuum”. For instance, the standard European approach that focuses on individual rights appears in direct contradiction with that of China. But, looking at cases of application, we soon find that there is neither a purely “individual rights” approach in Europe nor a “group rights” approach in China. They both prioritise one value over the other, but they follow policies that oscillate between the two.

Overall in TA, the study of values helps us enhance our ability to work together and produces more relevant results for policy making at the international level.

Q8. What are key ethical challenges to science and technology projects of future, given the new developments of gene edited babies gaining the currency in China?

The announcement of the first “genetically manipulated” babies in Shenzhen this year has been a watershed moment for S&T ethics. The repercussions will be felt for a long time, in my view. I happened to have a more personal experience of this, as I was presenting at a genomics conference (ICG13) in Shenzhen, two weeks prior to the genome editing announcement, whereby I warned the delegates that genome editing will be a very problematic technology in China and beyond. Little did I know, that two weeks after, my “prophecy” would be realised in the most spectacular manner!

I could say a lot about this case but one thing is certain. This type of development is not about whether it is ethical or unethical. It is about what kind of ethics or morality we want to follow. It is about what is right and what is wrong in research and the answer is not straightforward. For instance, is it ethical or unethical to want to enhance the capability of human nature? Is it morally right or wrong to do so by modifying the human genome? I strongly believe that the answer should be given by society itself, not a few “experts”.

Q9. What role do you see of government and private sector collaborating in future on any of key scientific developments? Are there any lessons learnt in past?

The private sector is leading S&T developments worldwide. It spends, on average, two-thirds of the total Research and Development expenditure of the average developed the economy. Moreover, the private sector leads the effort of translate research into products and services. It is, of course, imperative that governments have a close relationship with the private sector in S&T research – for instance by developing viable Public-Private Partnerships in bringing the fruits of research to society. This is, of course, easier said than done, as there are many challenges to be dealt with in this respect, the biggest of which is perhaps incompatibilities in their respective research culture. Public research has different aims and pace than private research but we have also seen very good practices around the world, that have brought great results. Here, there is a lot we could learn from the experiences of our US colleagues.

Q10. How do you consider Impact Assessment instruments that can help scaling up of ongoing S&T projects and newer areas of application of Assessment techniques?

TA is a dynamic endeavour. It has changed through time and it is still changing, along with society. What is possible today with the penetration of digitalisation, was not possible a few years ago. As we are moving towards a Global TA, we are faced with additional parameters that we need to take into consideration, such as different values systems, policy paradigms, and development trajectory. These will change TA further but it will make it more relevant to the work that is taking place in India and Europe.

There is a host of areas that TA methodologies should scale up to, from energy to automation to genomics, covering almost every main S&T development area. Of particular interest, I find the main translational infrastructure projects that we witness, such as the One Belt-One Road promoted by the Chinese government and the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor promoted by the Indian government. They are both prime examples of the need for a Global TA.  I very much hope, that in the future, they will be seen as examples of successful international cooperations,  that have true value and incorporated the views of their societies and people.

Biography of Dr. Miltos Ladikas

Dr. Miltos Ladikas holds senior research positions at the Institute of Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany, and at the Centre for Professional Ethics, University of Central Lancashire, UK.

He has studied Social Psychology at the London School of Economics (M.Sc., PhD) with a focus on Societal Aspects in Biotechnology Developments. Since 1996, he has held research positions in UK and Germany specialising in science and society issues. He has coordinated a number of international projects in the areas of science and technology policy, technology assessment, ethics of scientific developments, public perceptions in science and technology, genetically modified foods and access to pharmaceuticals.

He advises the European Commission, the European Research Council, the European & Developing Countries Clinical Countries Partnership, and a number of National Research Funds, on socio-ethical issues in research.

His current work focuses on Global aspects of Technology Assessment, Responsible Innovation, Ethics in Science and Technology Policy, as well as, Science Diplomacy.

He has a long-lasting collaboration with Chinese Government think-tanks and institutes and has been instrumental in promoting Europe-China science in society collaborations. Amongst others, he is the editor of “Embedding society in science & technology policy: European and Chinese perspectives” and “Science & Technology Governance and Ethics: A Global Perspective from Europe, India, and China”. For more details see: http://www.itas.kit.edu/english/staff_ladikas_miltos.php

Link of his Book titled – ‘Science and Technology Governance and Ethics’ - A Global Perspective from Europe, India, and China, Edited jointly by Miltos Ladikas, Sachin Chaturvedi, Yandong Zhao, and Dirk Stemerding https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-3-319-14693-5.pdf

Highlights of the Interview with Dr. Miltos Ladikas

The translational infrastructure projects such as the One Belt-One Road promoted by China and the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor promoted by India are both prime examples of the need for a Global Technology Assessment and successful international cooperations,  that have truly value and incorporated the views of their societies and people.

In terms of TA, the Indian government has attempted to institutionalise it, over the past 20 years, with a creation of some very good research centres. For instance, the Technology Information, Forecasting and  Assessment Council  (TIFAC), the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTAD), or the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), are doing great work in the area.

Indian colleagues have little difficulty in adapting to European S&T systems and vice versa. Unlike with other Asian colleagues, when collaborating with India, we usually do not have to spend as much time trying to understand each other’s terminology or working system. Our S&T conceptual framework is interchangeable and therefore, there is little wonder why India is so good in exporting services to Europe. What works for the Indian consumer, works usually also for the European one.

The announcement of the first “genetically manipulated” babies in Shenzhen this year has been a watershed moment for S&T ethics. The repercussions will be felt for a long time, in my view. I happened to have a more personal experience of this, as I was presenting at a genomics conference (ICG13) in Shenzhen, two weeks prior to the genome editing announcement, whereby I warned the delegates that genome editing will be a very problematic technology in China and beyond. Little did I know, that two weeks after, my “prophecy” would be realised in the most spectacular manner!

The private sector is leading S&T developments worldwide. It spends, on average, two thirds of the total Research and Development expenditure of the average developed economy. Moreover, the private sector leads the effort oftranslate research into products and services. It is of course imperative that governments have a close relationship with the private sector in S&T research – for instance by developing viable Public-Private Partnerships in bringing the fruits of research to society.


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