Science for the people

Published: June 25, 2012

The writer is associate professor in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Medicine at Boston University

Somehow, science and the Pakistani society have never really formed a bond. There is always a little tension, some suspicion and plenty of misunderstanding. Our suspicion does not help our ability to think rationally, analyse critically and innovate for the future. It would be unfair to say that the burden of this misunderstanding lies only on the greater society at large — I believe, that we as scientists, have not performed our parts either.

As I walked back from the Cambridge Science Festival, an annual event held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that attracts thousands of common citizens every year, I asked myself how come a similar event does not take place in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad or every other major city of Pakistan?

The science festival that I am thinking and talking about is not an event where students showcase their projects and compete for a prize, but a festival that truly celebrates science in a way that makes it accessible to the common man and woman, both literate and illiterate. What we need is a discussion of how science continues to impact our lives and what lies ahead. What are the transformative ideas and how can those, who are in this field for a living and those who are not, benefit from it equally. What I would like to see, is a common man, who was not afforded any education, get excited to send his daughter to school so she can study science.

The event at the Cambridge Science Festival — where I had the opportunity to present — was titled “Big Ideas for Busy People”. Speakers, including myself, had only five minutes to talk about a big idea pertaining to our research and discuss it and its implications for the general public. The audience, which was well above a thousand people, included folks from all races, opinions, religions and, of course, ages. Following the five-minute presentations, there was a five-minute window for questions and answers. The topics ranged from devices that detect counterfeit devices to brain mapping and moral decision-making, aging and the world, the new superconductors and real-world origami. The lack of any particular theme was intentional as the idea was to discuss big ideas in simple words that would engage a broader community. Similar events through the course of 10 days engaged kids and adults, working and non-working people, men and women and discussed the applications and fundamentals of science and created a sense that science is cool and that we need it. If a high-tech, unusually creative and innovation-conscious city like Cambridge feels that science is needed for its development, the case for Pakistan’s need for science is also clearly obvious.

We need to engage the scientists and engineers at our universities and colleges to take the message to the next generation. There may not be a lot of research taking place at each and every department in our universities, but there is still plenty of interesting research and creativity amongst our researchers that could engage the broader community. But perhaps, the strongest argument in favour of a science festival is to create a sense of wonder, creativity and inspiration among our youth. We need the ‘Sputnik’ moments for our society, the ‘Eureka’ feeling in our children to believe in the changes that society needs. There is never enough of rational thinking, quantitative approaches and innovative spirit in any society, and our society in particular, is short in supply when it comes to these essential ingredients. A sense of wonder can also do wonders for our people.

Holding such science fairs in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta or Islamabad is not going to be an inexpensive activity, but no price is too big if it involves making investments in inspiring our youth. It is time we take science and the scientific method to the street.

Published In The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2012. 

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Ali
    Jun 25, 2012 - 11:17PM

    Thank you Dr. Zaman for bringing something useful to our attention — I wish our universities and cities would join hands to engage the society in science, rational thinking and analytical skills.Recommend

  • Ayesha Pervez
    Jun 25, 2012 - 11:25PM

    I think Dr. Zaman is right we need sputnik moments for our kids, but in the absence of HEC having any teeth, cities having no lights, and the PM house having Raja Pervez Ashraf, how can we imagine having such a utopian society?

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  • Sobia
    Jun 25, 2012 - 11:27PM

    Thank you sir for bringing this up. I have been to a couple of science fairs including the one in Singapore and it is the most inspiring thing ever. We need to have them in our cities.

    Recommend

  • elementary
    Jun 26, 2012 - 12:30AM

    Fantastic ! . we need more people like you. Science and scientific thinking has the potential to revolutionize the way we live.
    Less of politics more of science please.

    Recommend

  • Future_of_Pak
    Jun 26, 2012 - 5:25AM

    Spot on man. Great article! I’m a huge fan of promoting and supporting all types of science education and research in Pakistan, and sincerely believe it is a major instrument to help us through our overall mess.Recommend

  • Butt sahib
    Jun 26, 2012 - 6:50AM

    I think the bigger issue is to engage people in rational thinking. While a science fair may not be a bad idea, it does not necessarily teach rational thinking and analytical mindset. It helps if you already have some iota of rational thinking — our problem is much, much bigger, we are not at the point where science fair would help, we are at a point, where reason is not yet rational.

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  • Jun 26, 2012 - 10:40AM

    Science, more specifically, a branch of Science- Biology, invalidates Islam. I don’t understand how a Country can be Islamic, yet walk the path of Science.

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  • Neutralist
    Jun 26, 2012 - 12:32PM

    Khwarzmi Science Society is one such effort in the direction of popularizing science education in Pakistan, and has conducted multiple astro-fests (Falkiyati Melas) in different cities of the country. Those who share the spirit should join it. (http://www.khwarizmi.org/)

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  • Raw is War
    Jun 26, 2012 - 4:43PM

    @ BruteForce

    why should science and religion be clubbed ?Recommend

  • Mohsin Naqvi
    Jun 26, 2012 - 4:47PM

    I agree with you, my friend, but alas, country has more immediate problems to deal with. No power, rampant inflation,and engineers busy designing helipads in diff villages across the country!

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  • elementary
    Jun 26, 2012 - 5:06PM

    @BruteForce:
    Invalidate??
    Islam is a rich philosophy with economic,scoial ,political,metaphysical,spiritual,legal and many more aspects.Science does a great job at dispelling and destroying many of religious(not just Islamic) dogmas.However it does not “invalidate” Islam. Not any more than the world resting on a Bull horn dogma invalidate Hinduism.
    I would suggest equipping yourself with a bit more knowledge about a major religion of the world before considering yourself entitled to making such sweeping statement about it.

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  • BruteForce
    Jun 26, 2012 - 8:54PM

    @Raw is War:

    Who said both should be clubbed. I am just pointing out that if one accepts Science and its procedures, by extension it talks about Evolution, which is diametrically opposite to what Islam says about origin of man, invalidating it.

    I am on the side of Science, FYI.

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  • Cynical
    Jun 27, 2012 - 11:14PM

    @Raw is War

    ‘Why should science and religion be clubbed?’

    Haven’t you heard of ‘Islamic science’?

    Recommend

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