Published: 27th September 2019
Why IIT Madras cancelled a lecture on a 'ground-breaking' Physics theory by a former IPS officer
IIT Madras had announced a lecture by former IPS officer B Prasada Rao on September 19, which it cancelled after alumni and students protested to the abstract
A lecture by former IPS officer B Prasada Rao, which was supposed to be held at IIT Madras on September 19 was cancelled at the very last minute because the organisers felt that it 'does not meet the standard to be presented at IIT Madras.'
Why did IIT Madras' SPOI first invite and then cancel a lecture, you may ask? Because of widespread outrage from students and former professors who said that such 'wild claims' against established theories needed to be tested and proven before being allowed in premier institutes like IIT Madras.
The lecture, which was organised by the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation's IITM's chapter and Optical Society of India's Madras Chapter was titled Interference and diffraction: A new theory. However, it was the abstract sent in by the former IPS officer, who is also an alumnus of IIT Madras, that set off alarm bells. The abstract of Rao's lecture suggests that his theory will challenge the wave nature of light, on which phenomena of diffraction and interference are based. "Until now, interference and diffraction have been explained by the wave theory of light. This talk will focus on an alternative interpretation for these phenomena, involving density ripples in the fluid air," it reads.
The organisers claim that it was Rao's decision to cancel the lecture. One particular mail from an alumnus who is a well-regarded senior professor in Physics is particularly stark and is believed to be the reasons why the event was cancelled, as far as students are concerned. The mail read, "Declarations of revolutionary novel explanations of well studied and well-understood phenomena must be viewed with the utmost skepticism and subjected to the utmost scrutiny of scientific evaluation. The chances are overwhelmingly high that such revolutionary theories are founded on basic misconceptions or delusions of overthrowing accepted science at the foundation level." The mail was sent on September 17 and the event was called off a day later.
The student group IITM Students Against Pseudoscience, which was responsible for criticising the 'unscientific' lectures delivered by heart surgeon Dr B M Hegde and Pranic Healer Namita Purohit earlier this year, certainly believe this is the case, "The abstract says that the officer's theory challenges all existing principles of physics. If someone as eminent as this professor is refuting it, there has to be a reason. Previously, we've raised our voice against many such lectures on pseudoscience," said a student belonging to the group.
However, when we got in touch with the professor who sent the mail, he was quite upset at the inference. Wanting not to be named, the senior academician said, "I don't have access to the institute email. I can only send an email to a few students and colleagues. Why would they cancel it based on an email that I'd sent? Let them decide it for themselves. I find it hard to believe. I'm not powerful to stop a lecture. Why am I being singled out here? I don't know the organisers. I only got a notice about it. I have my own opinions about it. Why does my opinion matter here? The argument that my email cancelled the lecture is pretty wrong."
He went on to add, "Even if I'm powerful enough, I wouldn't do that. Let the people attend the lecture and then decide it. That's the scientific manner to go about it. This is a scientific matter and various people expressed their opinions about it. It is entirely possible that the organisers themselves decided to cancel the lecture. I don't think anyone in IIT can stop a lecture just because they don't like it. I have no access to any social media platforms, so I had no idea about this."
Prasada Rao could not be reached for comment. The copy will be updated when he responds.