Colombo Telegraph

Politics & Science, Chalk & Cheese 

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

One can barely think of a worse mismatch in our context. They are as miscible – Science and Politics as is oil and water. Linguistically, I believe the correct word would be “Oxymoron” (no disrespect to that venerable institution – although there could be morons along their production line). I do not see any worthy scientific colleague who would see any evidence of even a trace of “Science” in our politics, notwithstanding the absurdly false promise of a “Scientific Cabinet”. This reminds me of a remark made by Churchill when a steno dared to correct an example of a “Split infinitive” in his script. The great man entered a marginal note with “This is impertinence, up with which I will not put”! I am personally appalled at the insult inflicted, (not on Politics). There may be some Political Scientists (shame on them) but certainly no Science in Politics here. There are enough examples which will be apparent to anybody who cares to ponder.

For starters, let me point out that the Annual Grants to two of our supposedly Top Institutions – The National Academy of Science and Sri Lanka Association for the advancement of Science – are woefully less than what it costs to have a single day’s expenses of a Parliamentary sitting (often for a brief few minutes for lack of a Quorum) and possibly less than two day’s cost of running its Canteen ! You will see the justification for my (admittedly) forthright and summary dismissal of a fraudulent pretense of concern and admiration for “Science”. This is what the widely respected (and slaughtered) Hon. Lakshman. Kadirgarmar, in a different context, referred to as “Bovine Excrement.”  Scientists are treated like mendicants, pleading for official support. The National Academy ceased, about seven years ago to get even their menial allowance, Scientists cannot (and will not) Be lured as crumbs would a pet dog. During the Minister Sarath Amunugama’s brief period as Minister of Scientific Affairs, he found a way of tossing a Million Rupees to the Academy. This was a “one off’ charity. SLAAS fares no better with an uncertain dole, at around half a Million per year. As far as officialdom is concerned, Science can go to hell – please remember to shut the door as you leave! We have other priorities, is the message.    

I had (as President of NASSL), the privilege of attending the occasion of the opening of a new Korean Academy Headquarters (attended by no less than 9 Nobel Prize Winners). The Group were honoured by being entertained by The President at the “Blue House”, his official residence for an afternoon (working) Tea. 

The cost of the storied Academy building, borne entirely by the State, was in excess of (hold your breath) Five Million US Dollars (equivalent to our Rs 750,000,000/= ?). The building also provided rental space for many tenants – with the income to be a support for the Academy’s recurrent needs. This is perhaps what “Scientific Governance” truly means. Of course we are not Korea, but Science unfortunately is the same in both countries. The contrasting results are painfully evident. Another privileged visit was to the Giant Samsung Head Quarters. The top management was of very young people (perhaps averaging about 35 – 40 years), and who were mostly US – trained Postgraduates. Their competence, work ethics, job satisfaction and polish showed the effects of true official support for the Applied Sciences.

Science must wait its turn. We have more important business, such as who will coalesce to continue the act of bleeding this country, under what symbol, Party Colour and the fanfare to greet the candidate who will lead us to our Valhalla!  Kepuwath Kola, Kepuwath Nil, Pohottuwa are pressingly more important. The horse (or donkey) dealing is on. The highest bidder gets.

Ronald Reagan is credited with saying that “politics is the second oldest profession, with prostitution as the First. The longer I remain in it, the more will I how closely the second resembles the first!  Even with Trump, the US is lucky. It has Donald Trump, Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Stevie Wonder. We have no Trump, no Cash, no Hope and no wonder. Cheer up! It may not be as bad as we fear.

In a character Certificate to a resigning Staffer, the boss wrote “This Officer has reached Rock Bottom and has now started to dig! “. He could not have said that of us!

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