Alas, astrology workshop to be held at IISc in November

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It was not a question of whether but when a scientific institution would hold a conference, meeting or workshop on astrology, or permit such a meeting or workshop to be held in its premises. And the waiting has come to an end. Come November 25-26, 2017, the Indian Institute of Science Alumni Association (IIScAA) will be holding a two-day workshop on “Astrology as a Scientific Tool for Individual Progress” at IISc. Yes, at IISc.

And the Director of IISc is the patron of the Alumni Association.

In 2001 the University Grants Commission came up with a decision to encourage universities to teach astrology. “A few departments of Vedic astrology were to be set up in Indian universities, which “would provide exclusive teaching and training in the subject leading to certificate, diploma, undergraduate, post-graduate and PhD degrees”. And about 35 India universities had sought permission to set up courses. There was widespread protest.

“There are 36 universities in India that have a degree programme on astrology,” claims Dr. M. S. Rameshaiah, Executive Committee of IIScAA and the person who will be conducting and convening the workshop in IISc. The workshop brochure says he is a member of the Indian Council of Astrological Sciences (ICAS) founded by Dr. B. V. Raman, whatever that means. He has done his M.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from IISc in 1984-1986.

“There is no newspaper that does not reserve a column on astrology either daily or on weekends. The electronic media has so many 24-hours channels on astrology,” says Dr. Rameshaiah explaining why the workshop is being held now. I had to gently remind him that The Hindu does not have such a column for years now.

The workshop will teach the participants how to improve productivity for the remaining period of their life, he tells me. “Using astrology participants can improve their life and become an astrologer within 24 hours,” he says. “The programme will be held for 12 hours from 8 am to 8 pm so you can learn everything about astrology in those two days,” he tells me enthusiastically.

So becoming an astrologer is part of the “Scientific tool for individual progress”!

Not to sound critical and put him off or disconnect the phone I played along. And he invited me several times to participate in the workshop and get benefitted. The personal invitations continued till the end despite introducing myself as a journalist from The Hindu. I am to expect a formal invitation that will be emailed to me!

The workshop will be an activity-oriented programme, whatever that means, he tells me.

I slowly began asking him the rationale behind hold such a pseudoscience workshop in a scientific institution and he tells me: “Like how people are getting benefitted from yoga, similarly people can get benefitted through astrology.”

“People who question astrology, do they even know the subject? Do research and publish in journals. Do project work on astrology,” he says a bit irritated. “You just attend the conference and see for yourself.”

“What is Science? Newton’s law of motion is under scrutiny and is getting further researched. Everything that is true is science and everything that is false is science and those that are neither true nor false are not science.”

“People who disagree can attend the workshop and decide whether it is a science or not a science. If somebody claims that astrology is not a science one should not believe it. Check for yourself instead of believing what others say,” he says. This was in response to my query that most scientists consider astrology as a pseudoscience and not a science.

He then changes track and says unlike other people who charge huge sum and do not teach astrology properly, his attempt is to do it the correct way and without pinching people’s pocket. “Other people are not teaching correctly, completely and clearly. We are charging only Rs.2,000 per person,” he says.

How it came to this stage

While the scientific community may be aghast that IISc has allowed such a workshop to be held in its premises, even if it is not directly involved in the programme, it will not come as a shock to those who have closely followed the developments on several fronts in India since mid-2014. The tone was set with the implausible claim by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that cosmetic surgery was practised thousands of years ago and in-vitro fertilisation-like procedure was done long ago in India and well before these were tried and perfected by scientists in the developed countries.

The January 2015 102nd Indian Science Congress held in Mumbai gave pseudoscience a legitimate platform when a session on “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit” was held. Some of the papers presented were about Indians’ “knowledge of making aeroplanes” that could undertake interplanetary travel, between 7000 and 6000 BC, and about “radars” working on the principle of detecting energy given out by animate and inanimate objects and finding out if a body was dead or alive!

And a few months back just like how the U.S. set a national goal to put man on the moon and successfully achieved it ahead of Russia, India too set a National Programme — Scientific Validation and Research on Panchagavya! In July this year, a 19-member committee was constituted to select projects that can help scientifically validate the benefits of panchagavya. The national programme is coordinated by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in collaboration with IIT Delhi.

At regular intervals we have been witnessing bizarre claims by several ruling part ministers about the virtues of cow urine and cow dung. Believe it or not, in June this year Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU), Gujarat, had even claimed to have found gold particles in cows’ urine.

Will it be business as usual?

So the workshop on “Astrology as a Scientific Tool for Individual Progress” is a continuation of this trend. Scientists in India did not even murmur when the national programme on “Scientific Validation and Research on Panchagavya” was started. Then came the fund crunch for CSIR labs and directive to seek funding from other sources to meet their expenses. Our scientists did not feel the need to join the global March for Science in April this year. It was only in August that Indian scientists woke from the deep slumber and organised a March for Science. The immediate provocation: the fund crunch faced by CSIR and fear that it would become more widespread, and to seek an end to the propagation of unscientific beliefs.

Will scientists now protest against this workshop, especially since it is held at IISc? Many of the IISc alumni are aghast at the prospect of such a workshop being held at IISc and have drafted a letter addressed to the IISc director. They plan to send the letter on October 30 once sizeable number of people sign it. There is also a provision for alumni to sign the letter without identifying themselves. I have seen the letter, which is a strongly-worded plea to have the workshop cancelled.

There is also a letter being drafted for scientists and others who are not IISc alumni to sign. Will provide the link once the letter is ready. There is also plan to write to media houses so it gets published in some newspaper and the event gets cancelled.

This is when I sorely miss Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, who passed away in July this year. He was a strident critic of government’s bad policies, particularly which are anti-science. Way back in 2001, he had moved the Supreme Court against an initiative by the government to introduce astrology in universities. There is somehow no one with his kind of stature who can stand up to such issues.

I am waiting to see how this unfolds.

UPDATE: October 28, 2.30 pm

I spoke to Dr. M.P. Ravindra who is the President of the IISc Alumni Association a few minutes back. According to him, the workshop has been CANCELLED. The decision was taken this morning. “Due to lack of interest and disagreement, the event will NOT be held,” he says. The lack of interest part intrigued me and I probed further. He was then more honest by saying: “There is a negative connotation about astrology. Given the image astrology has in the society, IISc should not get involved.” My attempts to know how a decision to hold the workshop in IISc was taken in the first place was not answered. I have been asked to call after 30 minutes to know that as he is travelling.

UPDATE: October 28, 5.15 pm

Dr. Ravindran called me as promised and said the intention to hold the workshop in IISc was to “educate people as astrology as a discipline is misunderstood and people are misusing it, especially TV channels. Astrology is used by bad elements who are exploiting the ignorant people.”

“The intention behind holding the workshop was missed. The intention was not properly communicated and with adequate clarity. The intention was more to educate the society about the meaning and place of astrology in the society and how they should view astrology,” he says. “The reaction was pretty unexpected and negative. It was a bad move and the workshop has been cancelled.”

18 Thoughts

  1. Hi Prasad Ravindranath,
    This blog entry of yours was wonderful and helped spread awareness bout the event and dropped it.
    I have another request. Since you are from The Hindu, can you please take a look at this pseudo scientific article published on The Hindu?
    http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/darbha-grass-a-natural-preservative/article7000098.ece
    Lot of things in this article are wrong (example: low amount if radiation during solar eclipse causes uncontrolled growth of bacteria). If possible, can you please get removed?

    Thanks and regards,
    Keerthi

    1. Will bring this to the attention of the concerned people to get it removed. Thanks for bringing this to my notice.

  2. As far as i understand, this issue has three angles, the first is science angle, the second one is commercial angle and the third one is location.

    If we look at the science, yes Astrology do have some problems. Some people say it is a science and other say a pseudoscience. Whatever it might be, as savers of science, why not give these people a chance to prove themselves and their principles/theories/applicability.

    Scientific history is evident that great theories and hypothesis were met with great resistance in initial days. When the theories were proved and validated by others, the theories moved into text book as standard. It looks like we are forgetting the basic essence of science — everything needs to be proved and validated. But for that let us give a fair chance. If the theory fails, it will itself go on from the memory as time passes. If we show the resistance, then we (as science students) are just earning the fame of suppressing the ideas or philosophy. Let us give them some time or fair chance, and ask them to prove or explain their merit or understanding of nature and heavenly bodies (according to them) or astronomical bodies (as per science) influence on human body or about life.

    The second issue is commercial angle, I know one person who used to come on TV every day in the morning and proposing body bending techniques and xyz about life. Then he/she slowly mesmerised the people to believe that air, water and food is contaminated. One fine morning, he opened a chain of courts where everything is sold in name of purity or religion or belief. Now the business runs in billions and billions of rupees, able to control a large chunk of influential people who give approvals without background check or lab report.

    The 21st century multibillion successful business mantra is to create fear in human minds and then sell medicines at any cost you wish.

    For any commercial build up, you need publicity and if it comes for free it is better, I think, the organiser needs to expand his income source so needs publicity. So IISc is the best venue.

    I think if the organiser is really inclined to spread the knowledge, then he can choose any venue other than IISc. IISc is a centre of scientific excellence and has to maintain that. If you prove your astrology and your worth as an eminent person, we will welcome you and render our support with an open heart.

  3. My senses are so numbed these days by what is happening
    around. I can’t help entirely agree with the opening of the
    article: “It was not a question of whether but rather
    when …” It is the most telling state of affairs.

    Not that our science leaders ever kept science and its spirit
    in good stead but what happened in 2015 Science Congress was
    indication enough for things to follow.

    First an institution falls, then institutes cannot be standing
    for long. That’s precisely what has happened.

    It is no relief that the event has been cancelled, it is most
    disturbing how is a thing which is against everything that
    science stands for is entertained at all?

    This is most disturbing and worrisome.

    Hopefully this kind of jolts may awaken and energize the wider
    scientific community, never mind the leadership, to issues beyond
    their labs and calculations.

  4. Sir
    By your own assumptions you are going to fail. As you know that theory of relativity says that it is possible to have two or more observations of same incident.
    Pl stop thinking that people who have reached IISc are not capable of thinking as sagacious as you.
    To rebut anyone without hearing is deemed as a criminal offence in world of academics.
    I am ready to disscus even with terrorist if they come (without Ak 47) with open mind to justify there jihad and dar Al harbor theory.

  5. This is how intolerance in India is spreading!
    Why not those who opposed to this go and question the speakers? Show this is a simple useless exercise! Instead of opposing just because we don’t understand, it is better to listen first and counter them. The HINDU newspaper is the one that is spreading “intolerance”! Now on IISc will not be able to debate anything on Right or Left ideology! That’s all!
    Intolerance to the core!
    Happy Intolerance day/month /year!!

  6. Astrology certainly is not a science as we understand sciences like physics, chemistry and biology; there is no doubt about it. And giving permission to conduct a workshop for convincing others of astrology is a very retrograde step on the part of authorities of IISc Bangalore , to start with. I remember well when the
    Sampoornananda Sanskrit University of Varanasi was not granted the institutional
    membership of the Astronomical Society of India in it’s General Body Meeting in Ahmedabad @ PRL Auditorium 1988.
    What happened further in that direction I am not aware. But a good number of scientists(primarily astrophysicists and physicists/mathematicians ) who are members of ASI at that time, strongly came in support of not granting the institutional membership of ASI to the said University.

  7. This was a kite flying exercise by IISC to see which way the wind is blowing.As of now there are pretty strong head winds.That doesn’t mean they will not fly this kite again There are too many retrograde, vested interests to support astrology.

    1. The workshop was organised by the Alumni Association, and IISc as such has not been involved. Not sure if the Association needs permission from IISc to conduct any programme.

  8. I want to remember Bhargava Sir’s words “I believe that knowledge can be acquired only through human endeavor and not through revelation and that all problems can and must be faced in terms of man’s moral and intellectual resources without invoking supernatural powers”. The Most Unscientific subject is going to be addressed by the India’s no1 Scientific Institution. As a Science Student, I strictly condemn this. I am wondering, how are present IISc World-renowned scientists allowing this? Do they think that the positions they are holding right now are a kind donation from the “Astrologers”? This is what we shall call “Scientists without scientific temper”.

  9. I have a PhD in Machine Learning from the Johns Hopkins university. I wrote many papers and earned many US patents in predictive Analytics – an area that specialises in how predictions can be made purely based on past data and prior assumptions / hypothesis. My father was a brilliant mathematician and mechanical engineer who in his later years took an interest in astrology. Those were days of not much software, so I used to see him spend hours and days doing trigonometric and Geometric calculations. I learnt from for example what brilliant math and astronomical modeling was involved in, for example, ephemeris calculations and divisional charts. I saw him study for days at the Princeton University library and discuss with western astrological scholars in New Jersey on the differences between Vedic Astrology models and the Western Astrology models. My father was a disciple of the same Mr. BV Raman and a memeber of the Indian Council of Astrological Sciences, the body that this journalist dismisses as “whatever that means”.

    My father and I hoped to write a book comparing the predictive techniques in astrology versus Machine learning, but he unfortunately passed away prematurely.

    It amazes me to see otherwise nice open minded people so closed to traditional systems of enquiry and science from India. I sure hope this changes soon, because there is so much we can lose because of our own close mindedness.

    1. Anyone sitting anywhere in the world should be able to reproduce and get the same results based on the same data. I am sure astrology fails miserably on this count. Reproducability of results is the litmus test that astrology should pass, which I am sure it will not. And that it is one of the reasons why I regard astrology as a pseudoscience.

      1. Software design, development comes under science and engineering. If you ask anybody in this line how software estimation works (it has many scientific models) and are the results reproducible then you will know how pathetic is the level of this science. The estimation done by various people for the same problem varies by 100% and more. (I can give many such examples in various fields, still the fields are respected and called science and not pseudo science.. Why do we ignore this?)

        Now we can say science is correct but implementation is wrong. Can we say the same thing about astrology.?

        Also confusion about empirical science, pseudo science and basic science should be looked into. Why people assume that Astrology is science? Astrology books never claim that it is a science in strict sense. In their definition anything which helps human beings to improve their life is science.

        No science has yet attempted prediction aspects in life. The problem is too complex for the current sciences to handle. This is being attempted by a pseudo science which itself is great. We need to respect the complexity of the problem before we jump into throwing it away.
        .
        As an engineer (software),I find one of the greatest use of astrology in the area of counseling.

      2. Jyotisha is one of the six Vedangas very much part of the vedas. And it is also a Shastra. Shastra etymological meaning is ‘shashanat trayate iti shastra’-‘That which protects you from danger’. There is a method, science, system of doing every thing and if you follow it does protect you. Now jyotisha shastra involves astrology astronomy and based on the movements of astronomical bodies predictions are made. There is a whole science and mathematics behind the calculation of hindu almanac. Entire india runs by several calenders of many region and they convey same data. For example How the whole world knows the date kumbh mela the largest gathering at Allahabad prayag. Does any one spend money to organize to invite people. People of india look at their Indian calender famously called Pancangam and they know that they have to gather in Allahabad on so and so date. Isn’t it a fascinating science. Similarly the dates of lunar eclipse solar eclipse and various other events how to they determine? It is not by the whims and fancies of the predictors mind but by the proper logic and science.
        A great saint of this century would say just because few try to misuse this science for their personal profit one can’t discard the whole science itself. Science is true and it is based on facts. But the user of the science or the instrument through which science is communicated may have faults. That does not mean you have to discard the entire science itself.

        For example How stock markets works based on prediction only isn’t by the past data and future predictions. And there are harshad methas who play ed bullies to cheat the community. So will you discard that science of probability saying it is false as it is based on probability and will you call it pseudo science.

        It is unfortunate that modern scientific mind relied only on pratyaksha pramana that is direct means of knowledge means seeing is believing and to certain extent anumana that is inference. Also believes that what they invent is something new which was never existed before.

        Just to counter this belief let me state one fact. We in the modern education study that Newton discovered gravitational force. But are we indians aware that this fact is already mentioned in a famous Upanishad called prashnopanishad. Likewise there are infinite amount of ancient wisdom which are fact based are available in our vedas-Shastras-scriptures and puranas the epics.

        In the name of modern education ancient wisdom is denied in our society for several decades under British taj and it is pathetic that even now we are hanging on to that shallow education system and afraid to explore and go to the depth of ancient wisdom with modern eyes.

        Does the writers here who oppose this workshop do they know sanskrit and our ancient wisdom to deny or oppose thus. Without knowing these two at least to certain extent, preventing the knowledge flow which our ancient seers have seen it clearly to the interested masses is wrong and who are we to decide what knowledge is science or pseudo science and that should be considered science or not. Do we have enough data to back it.

        As I am typing this there is many astrologer in our remote villages of india sitting and preparing almanac for next several years also predicting when the next kumbh mala going to be and believe it or not whether IIS is going to support this or not India is on its way to get back to its roots by other means.

    2. The critics of astrology have plenty of reasons valid to them. You can not call them closed minded. Accurate calculation of ephemeris and planetary positions, eclipses are indeed impressive and no one has any issues with them. But Astrology goes beyond that..it says certain planetary positions bring good luck, some others bad luck, etc..The very concept of Doshas is hard for the scientific minded to accept. but if you can show unassailable such correlations, that pass the muster of accepted statistical analysis, few will discard that. Scientists are the first ones to question their own theories, and the first ones to discard them, if evidence points that way.

    3. Machine learning does not take the planetary positions and predict the outcome of an event. Machine learning (as you said) uses training data.
      Astrology uses mathematics and astronomy to find the planetary positions. But then it tries to relate those planetary positions with the events in the life of a human being. That’s where it goes wrong. There is no logical reasoning for the “power of the planets”.
      Please don’t use pseudo-science to mislead people.

  10. This is the most shameful and retrograde step for one of our renowned institutions for teaching and research to undertake. That it is held under the guise of an alumni association does not minimise the damage. From his utterances the organiser comes out as one with total ignorance about science. I urge the Director, IISc, to withdraw permssion for this and save this great institution from what is clearly a serious downward slide.

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