In the first of what we hope will be a regular feature of Materials Today, Professor Robert Cahn from the University of Cambridge discusses a recent newsworthy matter, giving it his own personal spin. This time it is the British Foreign Office and its treatment of two eminent Indian Scientists which requires comment. 

 Sauce for the Goose?

In the issue of SCIENCE of 10 July 1998, on page 175, there is a letter from Prof. G. Padmanaban,Director of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, one of India's two top research institutions. He offers a new view of the Indian government's decision to authorise several experimental detonations of nuclear weapons last May: that Indian scientists are very tired of being looked down on and, indeed, held in professional contempt by so many Western individuals and governments, 'the United States in particular'. He went on to say that 'given this treatment, one clutches at any "victory" that makes one feel like an entity to be counted. It can be a win in cricket, a chess match, or a beauty contest, or even a nuclear blast'. When so eminent an Indian writes in such terms, it behoves Westerners to pay attention: but instead, the West is imposing sanctions of various kinds, as detailed in another article in SCIENCE two weeks later (page 494). I have just had personal experience of what may well strike many as pettiness. I am involved as a joint editor-in-chief of a forthcoming large Encyclopedia of Materials to be published by Elsevier, and I appointed an Indian metallurgist whom I know from long acquaintance to be highly qualified as a 'subject editor'; one of my fellow editors-in-chief appointed another Indian scientist to be a further subject editor. As it happens, these two gentlemen work in two different nuclear laboratories in India, and in consequence they were unable to gain visas to enter England in order to attend a very recent organisational meeting, in Oxford, in connection with the encyclopedia. This caused real difficulties for those who were trying to finalise article lists, as well as being offensive to the Indian editors. I have no reason to believe that the two men in question were involved in setting up the recent explosions. Although on a different level, the whole thing is uncomfortably reminiscent of the even more recent newspaper story of the British Airways pilot who refused to open the doors of his aircraft at the end of a flight from England because a passenger had tampered with a smoke alarm in a lavatory and the pilot insisted that the recalcitrant culprit should own up. The pilot is now under arrest for wrongful imprisonment! 
Yes, I know that anti-proliferation is regarded by our masters as crucial; but I also know that France carried out recent nuclear tests in defiance of world opinion and nothing followed except some indignant editorials. The views expressed in Cahn's Column are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editor of Materials Today nor of the publisher. Comments or letters in response to topics covered in Cahn's Column should be sent to the editor. 

Read full text on ScienceDirect

DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(98)80013-8