On May 19, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief G. Satheesh Reddy in a statement said that every scientist must take societal needs into account. The senior scientist, who is also the secretary of the Department of Defence Research and Development, insisted that defence laboratories must come out with “at least two dual-use products where the technology can be used for defence as well as societal needs as spin-offs.”
While addressing scientists and industry representatives at the DRDO’s Advanced Systems Laboratory, G. Satheesh Reddy underlined the term scientific social responsibility (SSR) as the way to go.
The concept of SSR is not new. It was almost five years back at the 104th session of the Indian Science Congress in 2017 that the need for inculcating SSR for engaging science for societal welfare was discussed. Since then, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), throughout its action programmes, workshops and seminars supported platforms to capture the public’s response to the issue. The years of deliberations and feedback finally led the DST to come out with SSR guidelines that institutions and people engaged with science can use as a guiding framework.
Dr Monika Koul, Associate Professor, Department of Botany, Hansraj College, Delhi University, in an article said, it is important for scientists to connect with the common man, as often their knowledge restricts to laboratories and scientific journals. They look for peer recognition to endorse their research. The new SSR guidelines fix accountability on the scientists to communicate it to the public in a language they can easily understand.
“Science and technology is dependent on public funding.… While scientists’ research papers get them more grants, papers, and promotions, and help them climb the academic ladder, much of this knowledge does not reach the common man. One is entitled to know what we achieve by supporting science. The only way people can know is if scientists talk to them,” she said.
What are SSR guidelines?
Guidelines for SSR, released on National Technology Day (May 11), will address the “need to connect science with society in many ways,” said W. Selvamurthy, former distinguished scientist at DRDO and president of Amity Science, Technology and Innovation Foundation, while chairing the committee appointed by the Ministry of Science and Technology to formulate the national policy on SSR.
The guidelines suggest 17 activities that scientific institutions can carry out. Scientists or university or college teachers need to recognise social problems that can be solved by technological intervention.
Every person who is holding an office as a researcher or science educator should communicate the developments made in science through print publications or broadcast media. Outreach activities to take the research to the end user is another suggestion.
A researcher’s individual SSR activities are being given due weightage in performance evaluation in a performance-based assessment system (PBAS). These actions come with incentives, which did not exist earlier. The policy recommends that every scientist or “knowledge worker” commits ten days every year for SSR activities.
There is a suggestion to introduce SSR in schools and colleges, where National Science Service units will be set up like NSS (National Social Service). The training, internships and activities will build the capacity of scientific human resources from younger days.
Another interesting suggestion is to use the diversity of visual and performing art forms to create awareness of science in society.
Society, Every Professional’s Responsibility
Craig Smith, the INSEAD Chaired Professor of Ethics and Social Responsibility, and Ron Soonieus, Director in Residence at INSEAD, made a similar point for lawyers in a blog after the Glasgow climate summit last year. The experts called legal professionals a powerful “force for good” by helping companies to navigate and accelerate in their journey toward a sustainable business.
A new category finding much respect is of “climate lawyers”, who have the onus of driving the change in favour of climate change mitigation. The bloggers insist that lawyers must be leaders in the fight against climate change. They have the skills to guide the business through the “ESG maze”, and should step up to help the world seize its “last best chance”, said the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry at the American Bar Association in August 2021.
Another interesting case where lawyers worked for society was in Iran. In an unprecedented display of unity in defence of the Iranian people, 85 lawyers signed an open letter calling on the Iranian government to respect the right to protest.
The suggestion of being socially responsible is also for doctors and students, insisting they realise their social responsibility from college. Another interesting pitch is Fly-by medical care, which focuses on the global and local social responsibilities of medical tourists and physician voluntourists. A research paper says, guidelines for engaging in ethical voluntourism and training for voluntourists still need better development, but medical tourism as a practice should follow the lead of voluntourism by developing clearer norms for ethical medical tourism.
Human resource observers suggest that socially responsible behaviour works both ways—at the company and outside. Employees can be socially responsible by making decisions that enhance the welfare of the people around them. The behaviour not only enhances teamwork and improves the overall productivity of the organisation, but also works towards developing communities and neighbourhoods. Individuals can volunteer in neighbourhood programmes, community activities and any other deed that impacts the greater good of their community.
Often too busy in their lives, complaining about problems and quitting over system lapses, professionals often forget that change starts with us. Social responsibility clearly is the responsibility of every individual—professional or not.