Reacting to the violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on January 5, the prominent scientific journal Nature has published an editorial criticising the Indian government for its failure to ensure the safety of university students,
While academics around the world have spoken out against the violence that students protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 have faced, Nature‘s editorial is notable because it places the weight of a prestigious brand behind this condemnation. Excerpt:
“Many of the government’s supporters are upset that university students, academics and scientists are also opposing the new law. But they must know that freedom of expression is core to a university’s mission; that the ability of citizens to protest peacefully against government policies is a right, not a privilege; and that the state should provide protection for such dissent. Without it, no opposition would be able to present its case to the public — as members of the current government and its supporters did in the years they were out of power.”
Apart from JNU, the editorial also takes cognisance of incidents of violence at the Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi and the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh, both in December, and quotes a tweet by K. VijayRaghavan, principal scientific adviser to the government, to say university campuses are no place for violence.
A similar issue that fails to get a mention in Nature‘s editorial, however, is the situation in the Kashmir Valley – where hospitals and universities haven’t had an internet connection since August 5, 2019, because of a government blockade, crippling healthcare services and forcing students to forego important academic opportunities.
Nonetheless, Nature‘s initiative is welcome, even if it limits itself to criticising violence against students and within universities and to encouraging the government to do better – more so since, as The Wire recently reported, the government has also made attempts to check in on scholars who signed a letter protesting the CAA in December 2019.
Journals like Nature – such as Cell, Science, the New England Journal of Medicine and others – are colloquially called ‘prestige’ journals for advertising themselves as publishers whose papers are cited more than average but whose publishing practices have also been marked by, among other things, a preference for more sensational results.
Although more and more scientists worldwide have been making deliberate efforts of late to move away from such metrics-centric publishing, they continue to be popular for their historical legacy and accumulated brand-value, especially among older scientists, research funders and administrators in charge of evaluating research for promotions, etc.
With its editorial, Nature may now just be one step ahead.