Does India's Science minister really believe Stephen Hawking said Vedas had theory superior to Einstein's?
Did Dr Harsh Vardhan receive a WhatsApp forward?
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BJP politicians often betray their belief that almost everything under the sun was discovered and invented by Hindus from the Vedic period.
In keeping with this tradition, Union science minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, while speaking at the 105th edition of the Indian Science Congress at Manipur University, made the most outrageous assertion: “We recently lost a renowned scientist, cosmologist Stephen Hawking. He emphatically said on record that our Vedas might have a theory superior to that of Einstein’s E=mc2.”
Dr Vardhan, who was sharing the stage with none less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, happily told the audience (roughly 5,000 research scholars) that the late Dr Stephen Hawking believed that an ancient Hindu text might have a theory far more superior to one of the most iconic formulae in the world — mass-energy equivalence — and he did so without an iota of evidence.
Asked for proof, Dr Vardhan smugly suggested: “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.”
Hawking never said anything like that. Never. Not once.
So, what is the source of such an assertion? Did Dr Vardhan receive it on a WhatsApp forward? It is more than likely. And in case this was not part of the galaxy of misinformation and fake news that is the instant messaging app, one can be sure that this new nugget of national pride will most certainly be making an appearance in family WhatsApp groups: seven people may respond with a “wow”, clap emojis and the folded hands emoji.
The closest one gets to the source of this ludicrous claim, however, is the website for Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas (I-SERVE), a scientific research institute and a charitable non-profit “dedicated to dig out the technical details of Vedic sciences from ancient Indian literature”.
Specifically, the website hosts an article titled “Dr Stephen Hawking’s Opinion on the Science in Veda”, which reads, “Vedas might have a theory superior to Einstein’s law E=MC2”.
Of course, the article itself offers nothing to back this claim, except a November 2013 letter sent by KV Krishnamurthy, I-SERVE’s chairman, to Hawking, asking for the esteemed physicist to comment on a paper presented by Dr Sivarambabu Sakamuri titled “The World Beyond Fermions (Vedic Model)”.
Of course, Hawking did not respond that request. Instead, they received a mail from the physicist’s technical assistant that read, “Thank you for your email to Professor Hawking. As you can imagine, Prof Hawking receives many such every day. He very much regrets that due to the severe limitations he works under and the enormous number of requests he receives, he is unable to compose a reply to every message, and we do not have the resources to deal with many of the specific scientific enquiries and theories we receive.”
Further, the article also contained the link to a 2011 Facebook post from a page titled “Stephen Hawking”. The page’s image is also that of the late physicist. The page’s URL however reads “hari.scientist”, and the linked post has the text as the article.
If that is the source of Dr Vardhan’s claim, this would not be the first time a BJP minister has shared pseudoscience based on unverified internet wisdom. Last year, Rajasthan education minister Vasudev Devnani, proudly proclaimed, “Gai ek matra prani hai jo oxygen grahan karta hai, aur oxygen his chhodta hai (The cow is the only animal that takes in oxygen and also releases oxygen).”
He also claimed that cow dung has ample vitamin B that helps soak up radioactivity.
Dr Vardhan himself has never shied from making unsubstantiated (and plain wrong) claims. When Dr Vardhan was the Union health minister, he famously suggested that fidelity instead of condoms would be a better measure to prevent the spread of AIDS.
For what it's worth, it is only fitting that a medical doctor should make such assertions when, in 2014, while speaking at a function in Mumbai, his boss PM Modi said, "We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in Mahabharat. If we think a little more, we realise that Mahabharat says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb. We worship Lord Ganesh. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time that got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery."
For the record, while Hawking has never (at least it hasn't been documented) spoken about the Vedas and their superiority to Einstein's proven theories, he has gone on record to denounce astrology. Ironically, the renowned physicist did so at the Albert Einstein memorial lecture in New Delhi in 2001, when he said: “The reason most scientists don’t believe in astrology is that it is not consistent with our theories which have been tested by experiment."
In this era of alt-facts and fake news, perhaps we will soon take this dubious Facebook post for gospel and millions of Indians will continue to bask in the false glory that Hawking believed the Vedas superior to Einstein's perfectly evidenced assertions.