Monday, February 23, 2009

BBC Radio program: Islam & Science - part 2

Here is the second episode of the BBC radio program: Islam & Science (post about episode 1 here). The focus here is on investment in science and its impact (if any). This episode is set almost entirely in Pakistan. There is no question that Pakistan has seen a substantial increase in scientific investment - and a lot of credit for that goes to chemist and former minister of science, Ata-ur-Rehman (he is interviewed here). At the same time, Pervez Hoodbhoy, among others, has been a vocal critic of the way some of these policies have been implemented (just check out this recent opinion piece by Hoodbhoy in Dawn (Feb 9th,2009): How greed ruins academia).

Two interesting things from this episode:
1) There is a good illustration of the impact of terrorism on education and science. Karachi has now improved quite a bit - but still violence can erupt at any time. In fact at the time of the interview, the Karachi University was closed because of clashes in the city. The situation in Karachi was also quite bad in the mid 1980's and I remember we had to check the newspaper in the morning to see if the exams were going or not. But everybody gets used to it - as is illustrated by one of the professors in the interview. But the larger scale terrorism - now gripping the northern parts of the country, including Islamabad, makes it really hard for any meaningful cooperation with any western education institutions. As Hoodbhoy was lamenting, that it is very hard to even organize a small seminar or symposia where they could invite scholars from abroad.

2) The last part of the episode is spent on women pursuing science at universities in Pakistan - and I think that is the best part of the series so far (starts around 23 minutes into the episode). While interviews with these women scientists/students illustrate the number of challenges they face (far more than their male counterparts), it is also quite heartening to see their enthusiasm. Perhaps this is a perfect illustration of the current state of Pakistan: On the one hand, there are increasing number of women getting educated and pursuing the sciences. On the other, we have the Taliban in Swat and elsewhere, blowing up hundreds of schools for girls. The future hangs in balance.

Hear the full second episode here.