This is a bizarre story but it shows how misinformation begins quietly and then spreads like wildfire.
Back in 2011, a Facebook page using the name “Stephen Hawking,” but with the username “hari.scientist,” published a post claiming sacred Hindu texts were somehow more scientifically accurate than Albert Einstein‘s famous special-relativity equation E=mc2.
Vedas might have a theory superior to Einstein’s law E=MC2…
To conclude, Vedas are a vast storehouse of knowledge, abundant information and solutions waiting to be discovered by dedicated youngsters
There’s no truth to that. But also… did it matter? This was a random page that only has about 1,500 followers now (and presumably far fewer seven years ago). That means virtually no one saw this or cared.
A couple of years later, however, a website called the “Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas” reproduced that post as if it were true. They even said, as a point of pride, that “Hawking” cited their organizing secretary Dr. Sivarambabu. (And we’re supposed to trust them because, as their website boasts, the Indian government recognizes the group as an official “Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.”)
Again, there’s no truth to that… but no one reads this site, so no big deal, right?
Well. Funny thing.
Today, India’s Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan — one of the top government scientists, serving in Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s cabinet — claimed that Hawking once said the “Vedas might have a theory which is superior to that of Einstein’s theory.” He made the remarks in a speech to open the 105th Indian Science Congress.
“We recently lost a renowned scientist, cosmologist Stephen Hawking. He also emphatically said on record that our Vedas might have a theory which is superior to that of Einstein’s theory of E=mc2,” Vardhan said in his speech.
When reporters asked him for a citation, Vardhan played coy.
“You in the media should do some work and find out the source of this statement. When you have failed, then I shall disclose the source of my information,” he told a group of journalists.
Got that, reporters? You figure out where he’s getting this bullshit from. It was a very Trumpian interaction: Lie, get called out on the lie, pretend you know more than you actually do, then blame reporters for not discovering the truth.
And then, as if to double down on his lie, Vardhan also said it on Twitter:
#ISC2018 –Each and every custom and ritual of Hinduism is steeped in science; every modern Indian achievement is a continuation of our ancient scientific achievement. Even Stephen Hawking said, our Vedas might have a theory superior to Einstein’s law E=MC2. @moefcc @IndiaDST pic.twitter.com/QP9PbLElCd
— Dr. Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) March 16, 2018
So… one of the most influential scientists in India is perpetuating religious propaganda that originated on a fake Facebook page. And instead of apologizing for his ignorance, he’s pretending he did nothing wrong because the internet said it so it must be true.
This wouldn’t be the first time someone has made ludicrous religious claims at the Indian Science Congress.
For instance, a lecture in the 102nd Indian Science Congress held in Mumbai examined ancient aviation technology in the Vedas and claimed that aeroplanes existed in India 7,000 years ago and they travelled from one country to another and from one planet to another.
And earlier this year, India’s minister for higher education, Satyapal Singh, claimed evolution shouldn’t be taught in schools because no one “ever saw an ape turning into a human being.” Singh, too, cited Einstein (falsely) as saying evolution was “unscientific.”
I haven’t seen this much ignorance at the highest levels of government since I turned on the news five minutes ago.
(Thanks to @Vicky_SSH for the link)