Curious Bends  –  the mirror man, leaderless science, Modi’s love for the environment and more

1. To prescribe or not to prescribe

There is a saying in Tamil that goes “if your family can’t discipline you, the world will”. That would be the story of the slipshod trio of Wockhardt, Ranbaxy and Sun Pharma, three Indian pharma companies whose drugs have been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), leaving Indian doctors and patients facing a dilemma nobody deserves. On the one hand, these companies’ drugs have no substitutes in the market. On the other, neither their quality checks nor the government regulatory body’s are trustworthy. While culpability swings from deficient manpower to lax rules, what drugs are doctors prescribing? (4 min read)

2. Science in India suffers from a lack of leadership

The Indian Institute of Science wants to construct India’s biggest particle accelerator, but for years the desire has not even materialised into a concrete plan. The difficulty? It cannot afford the cost of construction of nearly Rs. 2,000 crore without help from the central government. But the excuse belies a more visceral problem: the Indian science community has a vacuum at its helm, and it shows. Other developing nations are doing much better. Brazil, arguably India’s peer, is already building its second synchrotron. (4 min read)

3. The man who cycles in Cambodia treating phantom pain with mirrors

He has held more than 20 jobs before this, from being an English teacher in Saudi Arabia to being a body-double in a German film. However… “In the autumn of 2010, Stephen was living in a basement apartment in Vancouver when it struck him that his calling might be mirror therapy. He’d go where there were amputees in pain, give them a mirror and teach them how to use it. Cambodia was his first destination because it had an inordinately high number of amputees, and it was small and flat, which was important because Stephen was planning to bicycle with his mirrors.” (27 min read)

+ The author, Srinath Perur, is a Bangalore-based science and travel writer.

4. Fast turnaround of environmental approvals will cost us dearly

Any developmental project in India requires a government-approved environment impact assessment (EIA). However, two things can decidedly worsen its trustworthiness. First, the company whose project is to be assessed can choose who performs it, no doubt a controversial facility. Second, as the newly installed Indian government seems to be doing, assessments can be “fast-tracked” at the expense of quality. As a result, both biologically diverse and endangered ecosystems around the country are under increased threat. (5 min read)

5. The science bit of India’s budget

Biotechnology, education and renewable energy research are the big winners in the 2014 Union Budget in India, at least in absolute terms. Relatively, however, the rise in funding (4%) is diminished by the rate of inflation (8%), while the slew of new IITs and IIMs are likely to exacerbate a spate of teacher deficiency. Also hanging in the balance is the approval for scientific mega-projects. Nonetheless, scientists are optimistic that things will improve by September, when the government will issue revised estimates of funding figures. (2 min read)

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Chart of the week

After the awful 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, polling in the constituency was strongly and predictably polarised. In most polling booths, the party that won also secured more than 90% of the votes. But was this the case across all of the state of Uttar Pradesh? Apparently not, as this analysis and chart shows. Western UP had the most polling booths where the contest was a winner-takes-all, but the extent of polarisation became visibly moderated toward the east. More on this at DataStories.in.

For more stuff like this, follow Akshat and Mukunth on Twitter. If you have anything to tell us, we can be found at curiousbends@gmail.com. Have a good week!

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