Times of India (Editorial), 12 May 05
The Internet no doubt challenges ignorance, but it is also a purveyor of false information. It is decentralised and anarchic, since nobody controls or owns it. To borrow a phrase from al Biruni, it is a mixture of pearls, pebbles and dung. Yet, many people utterly believe what is posted on the Net. Newspapers tap the Net for background information.Thus, noted astronomer-mathematician Brahmagupta is placed in 628 BCE instead of CE 628. The Jantar Mantar observatory is said to have been employed for predicting eclipses. Not true. Predictions require mathematics, not instruments. A newspaper described Aryabhata as “a scholar at the Nalanda university” and credited him with authoring the so-called “heliocentric theory of gravitation”. We know very little about ancient astronomers, our only source being stray comments in tersely worded scientific shlokas by them or in those of their commentators. Some speculate that Aryabhata was head of Nalanda university. Even if this were true, it does not necessarily mean that he was a student there. A website even displays a picture of Aryabhata standing in front of his university! As for the heliocentric theory, this is illiteracy of the highest order. A mathematical theory is constructed so that it can have wide application. It cannot be centred on the sun or anything else.
The Internet has 11,800 entries on Aryabhata. How does one decide which ones to reject? The Net also throws up problems of rigour. M K Gandhi is widely quoted as saying the earth has enough for everyone’s need but not greed. Many versions of this statement are doing the rounds. Which are correct? Some Hindus in North America were the first Indians to use the Net. They have constructed an Indian past that would help them cope with their real or imagined problems in an alien setting. With dependence on the Net as a primary source of information growing, it is necessary to create an authentic web resource from an Indian perspective. Indian newspapers should form a consortium to set up an online Indipaedia or encyclopaedia Indica. A committed band of editors and contributors should prepare entries. This might seem like an ambitious and long-drawn affair but may be worth the effort.
The writer is a commentator on history and science.