Who am I?

I am Karthik Dinne. I did my B.S, M.S (Physics) from IIT Kharagpur. I am the author of the book "UnpackED - The black box of Indian school education reform" (link takes you to a free to download pdf).

What's this blog about?

As the name of the website, "Question Everything" suggests, this blog aims to promote the trait of questioning everything and build a healthy disrespect to authority. It is an attempt to nurture a culture of scientific temper and critical thinking in our society.

What's scientific temper?

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru coined the term "scientific temper". He explained its meaning beautifully as follows:

"[What is needed] is the scientific approach, the adventurous and yet  critical temper of science, the 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 fact and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of  the mind—all this is necessary, not merely for the application of  science but for life itself and the solution of its many problems." —Jawaharlal Nehru (1946) The Discovery of India

Why did I start this blog?

I am primarily interested in development economics (issues related to poverty) in general and education policy in particular. I have written a book on Indian education policy outlining the issues with the current approach to reform and advocating for a fresh approach to reform. I have another blog where I write about public policy issues.

After thinking about the Indian education policy for some years and with the experience of interacting with many people, I began to realize that public policy is not the only constraint that's preventing us from becoming an "educated society". The general culture in our society that promotes unquestioned reverence and submissiveness to authority, and discourages questioning, is an equally important constraint. Even if we get the public policy right, the culture of unquestioned reverence to authority might hold us back because the cultural traits percolate to education and research, preventing us from achieving top quality.

For instance:

1. We might provide all required funding, training and support to school science teachers but what if they don't encourage the traits of questioning in children? What if school teachers themselves don't have a scientific temper? What impression does a physics teacher, following astrology, leave on the young fertile minds? Biology teachers who don't believe in evolution or don't appreciate its essence can't do justice to the subject. They would either not teach it or just teach evolution as a list of rote facts to be memorized.

2. Similarly, we may provide all the requisite funding and support to research but what if the lack of openness in society percolates into academia and creates an atmosphere where people cannot ask questions on the widely prevalent cultural beliefs that posit non-scientific explanations for natural phenomena? Such an academic setting would not push human knowledge towards the truth. It's the kind of societal culture that resisted Galileo and probably silenced many scientists.

Similarly, if questioning elder scientists is discouraged due to the percolation of cultural traits of a hierarchical society into the academia, we would end up doing only mechanized research yielding only incremental value. We won't make groundbreaking discoveries.

3. Parents want their kids to learn science but they often don't want the kids to question the superstitions. It's because parents are part of a culture that doesn't accept questioning certain things. Parents hence often act as barriers to the nurturing of critical thinking in children.

The important lesson is that, if we are to build a genuinely "educated society", a society where "the clear stream of reason has not lost its way", as Tagore wrote, we have to focus not just on schools and education policy. We have to extend our focus to the society as a whole.

With this realization, I wanted to work on building a culture of questioning in our society.

I have a science degree, which made me think that I have the requisite background to do something about this. In fact, as someone who has studied science, promoting scientific temper in the society is a part of my responsibility towards the society, which, sadly many science graduates and scientists think that it is not a part of their job.

Initially, I looked for other initiatives that are working on building scientific temper, especially the work of scientists and science journalists. I am sorry to say that I was disappointed. Most of them think of science communication only as disseminating news of new discoveries or explaining concepts of science. The critical aspect of equipping people to use the knowledge base of science to question one's own beliefs thereby dispelling dogmas and superstitions from society is often less emphasized.

Merely disseminating knowledge of science is of no use unless one aims the gun of the scientific method at the deeply held beliefs and revise them. Of what use is the knowledge of cosmology and astrophysics, if you choose the right time to travel by looking at the position of stars?

One might think that giving information about science alone is sufficient to remove superstitions. It's often not the case. People who study science needn't use that knowledge to question the beliefs of their own. People are to be nudged to aim inwards, and someone has to act as a sounding board through their thinking process. Providing both logical and emotional support through transition periods is equally important. This crucial process is missing from the science-communication in India.

A part of the reason for less emphasis on using science to question popular superstitions is because, as the late Prof. PM Bhargava said, many Indian scientists themselves don't have a scientific temper. Those who have the requisite scientific temper either think that it's not their job to nurture scientific temper in society or they don't have the time or they are not well-versed with modern information dissemination systems or they don't want to take the risk of offending people.

All of this led to this blog.

What type of blog posts can I expect from this blog?

As explained above, the purpose of this blog is to promote the trait of questioning in our society. In short, a thinking process or a thinking person requires the following five aspects:

1. Asking a question, irrespective of who or what it is about!
2. An environment that facilitates questioning
3. Requisite knowledge to be able to answer the question
4. Grit to persist till you understand
5. Exercise reason to question one's own beliefs and openness to revise even deeply held beliefs in the light of evidence

My broad aim will be to both promote and nurture the above five aspects. It's only a beginning but as of now, I am thinking of the following five categories of posts.

1. Asking questions on everything: This is to demonstrate that you can and should ask questions on everything. Hopefully, it also demonstrates "how to ask questions".

2. Science Explainers: Asking question is the first step but to answer the question or to correct other's misunderstandings, one should also have a knowledge of the underlying science. Some of the modern-day cutting-edge science may not be easily comprehensible to those without formal training, because it is often math-heavy. I aim to provide simple explanations to complex science topics. Note that this is not merely an information dissemination exercise. The aim is to use this knowledge to question and revise our beliefs.

This would also include posts on topics like evolution, where there is a deliberate misinformation being spread.

If you want me to write a post explaining some science concept, please feel to write to me at "I2WillQuestionEverything@gmail.com"

Being a scientific literate is useful in another sense. It will equip oneself to detect pseudoscience, quackery and bullshit! You won't be easily taken for a ride by all the pseudoscience around us.

3. Debunking Pseudo-Science: Superstition is the scourge of our society. In olden days, superstition was based on faith. Just as the science advanced, the promoters of superstition have also advanced. They are now using "science-sounding" vocabulary to legitimize and justify the superstitions and woo-woo theories. By sprinkling science words in their speech, the promoters of superstitions are making people think that these superstitions have scientific validity. Astrology is an example of one such prominent superstition.

It's important to communicate this mischief to the public. You can expect some posts on these lines, where I debunk pseudo-science myths.

If you come across any "shady" "science sounding explanation" which you want to get clarified, please feel to write to me at "I2WillQuestionEverything@gmail.com"

4. Scientific Temper and the Scientific Method: This category of posts aims to explain the notion of scientific temper and the scientific method in detail, responses to criticism against them, along with the common misconceptions associated with them.  It will also include posts on the trickery behind the common ways in which the scientific method is abused to justify pseudo-science.

You can also expect posts on the causes for lack of scientific temper in our society, the challenges in nurturing scientific temper, and some ideas & thoughts on strategies to nurture scientific temper.

5. Others: The miscellaneous category includes posts on debates of Science and Religion, Science and Morality, Science and Democracy, science policies in India, and any other related issue that might come up.

Thanks for reading.

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"Shed dogma. Embrace science"