Monday, April 12, 2021
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Dear liberal media, please promise to be respectful no matter how Covaxin trial goes

As the human trials of India’s vaccine proceed, we have to be prepared for both success and failure. If we succeed, great. If we fail, we go back to the drawing board and try again.

The Russians say they already have a vaccine. Yesterday, Oxford University declared that their vaccine has delivered satisfactory results in the first round of trials. For India, the news is no less encouraging. Yesterday at AIIMS Delhi, the ICMR began human trials of Covaxin, India’s candidate for a vaccine against Covid-19.

History will remember these moments. All of humanity, huddled together in anticipation, putting everything in the able hands of scientists.

This brings back memories from last year, when all of India was waiting for a technical triumph in space. For ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 to deliver the Vikram lander on the surface of the moon. India was up all night to witness history. But it did not happen. So close and yet …

The collective heartbreak was an important lesson. Both success and failure are integral to science. In fact, what makes science great is that it admits both success and failure. Have you ever seen a journalist or political pundit go wrong? Or an opinion poll from Yogendra Yadav? But scientists go wrong all the time. Then, they work hard and figure out what’s right. That’s what makes scientists valuable to the world.

So let’s remember this. While we all hope for success in the vaccine trials, things could go wrong. The scientists might have to start all over again.

So while these trials are going on, can the liberal media please promise to be decent and respectful no matter what the outcome? The last thing we want to see is some liberal screaming at ICMR researchers in the same way as NDTV’s Pallava Bagla yelled at ISRO scientists.

Who remembers the face of the mild mannered ISRO scientist, flustered, and stunned? And the fury of Pallava Bagla, loud, arrogant and ignorant?

While Bagla apologized (sort of), the underlying attitude problems in the media remain. Probably because understanding success and failure in science requires a perspective very different from that generally adopted by media.

Here, for instance, is somebody who fails to understand.

Dhume siding with Bagla

Journalists are brought up to believe that things go wrong either because somebody has been paid off or not been paid off. Their minds cannot comprehend a glitch caused by a speck of dust in space, or a single bug in a million lines of code. Or even a simple malfunction.

Even the top media minds cannot understand.

Prannoy Roy defending Pallava Bagla

So Pallava Bagla has done a lot for ISRO by covering it. Presumably, this gave them exposure, which advanced their careers in science. Wait! That’s how careers are made in Bollywood, not science. Sorry Prannoy.

As the human trials of India’s vaccine proceed, we have to be prepared for both success and failure. If we succeed, great. If we fail, we go back to the drawing board and try again.

All we need from liberal media is to be decent and respectful about things they cannot understand. The other day, I saw a liberal celebrity, much revered for her political opinions, tell a smart-ass comedian that she will cure herself with a vaccine if she happens to get the Coronavirus. Then they shared a laugh about gaumutra and the Hindu right. Sit down, both of you. You don’t even understand what a vaccine is.

No, the liberal media doesn’t have to become a cheerleader. You don’t have to run after their car like the NDTV reporter who chased down Rahul Gandhi to ask about the taste of jalebi made from gur. Just maintain a respectful distance from the science and the scientists. And report whatever happens. That will be enough.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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