Science and Shame

Published: September 10, 2019
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Fawad Chaudhry. PHOTO: APP

Fawad Chaudhry. PHOTO: APP

Fawad Chaudhry. PHOTO: APP The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of biomedical engineering, international health and medicine at Boston University. He tweets @mhzaman

The status of science in Pakistan is pitiful. The scientific output is miserable, and its quality even worse. From April 2018 to March 2019 (according to the journal, Nature) Pakistan’s article count in various scientific disciplines was 182. Article count, as defined by Nature, is equal to one if “one or more authors of the research article are from that country, regardless of how many co-authors there are from outside that country”. In the same period, the article count for India was 1,472. India ranked 15th in the world, ahead of Singapore, Israel and Russia. Pakistan was ranked 45th, behind Thailand, South Africa, Ukraine and Estonia.

The other commonly used metric is patent applications. In the most recent data from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Pakistan filed 505 patent applications in patent offices outside Pakistan (largely in the US and Europe) of which 159 were approved. During the same period, Indian innovators filed 31,621 applications in offices outside India. Compared to Pakistan’s 159 applications, India was granted 10,675.

The stats are half the picture. Of the publications that are coming out of Pakistan, the quality is miserable. In my own area of Biomedical Engineering, I am yet to read one high quality publication from Pakistan. If the past and present looks anything but bright, the future with continuous budget cuts looks even darker.

The state of our science should make us humble, self-reflecting, and worried about what lies ahead. Arrogance is never acceptable — not even when you are at the very top of the scientific enterprise. But arrogance from the Minister of Science, when your own state of affairs is in shambles, is pathetic and laughable. I had always known that he had no technical competence in science or technology, but I did not appreciate his disdain for the scientific process and enterprise. His recent remarks about India’s mission to the moon are an embarrassment. One should strongly and forcefully disagree with the treatment of people in Kashmir and stand up for their human rights. But making fun of a robust attempt to land on the moon, with the highly immature mocking language that he used is simply unacceptable. As a scientist, I was shocked by such ignorance — as a Pakistani I was ashamed by the childish theatrics of our leadership. This is not a liberal or a conservative issue, but an issue of maturity of thought and action.

I also believe that the minister’s remarks undermine the argument about Kashmir. When the senior leadership of a government speaks the way he does, people around the world stop taking them seriously. At this time, Kashmiris need focused, careful, serious and thoughtful advocates, not those who embarrass themselves.

The minister’s own record in leadership of science and technology should also be examined. There isn’t much but it could be reduced to two things. The moon calendar and the supposed conference on innovation that was going to happen on October 17 of this year with (in his own words) Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk present. From a scientific perspective, no one cares about the first one and no one knows anything about the second one.

My biggest worry is for our youngsters who are so capable and eager to contribute through their intellect, will and hard work. The minister sets a terrible example for them. We need leaders who are knowledgeable, thoughtful, visionary and mature. The current minister has none of these skills. If we really care about our own science and its future, we should demand someone who inspires scientists, not embarrasses them. Our future deserves better.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2019.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Sharif Lone
    Sep 10, 2019 - 10:10AM

    A very good article. Unless we give more importance to science and less to books written more than a thousand years ago, things won’t improve. Europe has advanced for this very reason. Recommend

  • Sahir Sumalani
    Sep 10, 2019 - 11:41AM

    Superb writing… cent percent agreed. “We need leaders who are knowledgeable, thoughtful, visionary and mature”.Recommend

  • Umar Zak
    Sep 10, 2019 - 2:40PM

    Rightly said. This guy is not capable of running Science and Tech Ministry rather he will set a worst example for next generation to come. Recommend

  • tuk
    Sep 10, 2019 - 9:06PM

    Landing on moon 50 years after it has been done is like reinventing a wheel! Pakistan should focus on economic development.Recommend

  • abhi
    Sep 10, 2019 - 10:10PM

    Sensible write upRecommend

  • Vinod Kumar
    Sep 10, 2019 - 10:34PM

    Vinod Pathania
    Nice article. I apprerciate the honesty of the authors. On your point of view on kashmir I dare you to compare track record of India and Pakistan in dealing with minorities. Kindly remember India is 2nd largest country with muslim population and we had Muslim as our President, Homeminister and Cheif justice and sikh as prime minister. Muslim population in India increased from 12% to 14 % since 1947. Just compare these stats with your country. Ypou are scientist and Iam sure you will be convienced by the data. Dr Vinod Pathania… Phd Organic chemistryRecommend

  • Zeeshan
    Oct 1, 2019 - 12:02PM

    His days are numbered!
    Very well written article and some eye opening information.Recommend

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